Sleeping Medications Side Effects: Everything You Should Know

Disclaimer - Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment... Read More Here.

Sleeping medications are sedative-hypnotics. They are  known as sleeping pills. These pills are a special class of medication to help people fall and stay asleep. Sleeping medications include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and some hypnotics. Ativan, Valium, Librium, and Xanax are benzodiazepines used as anti-anxiety medications. Although they’re highly effective, they can become addictive. A sleeping pill addiction could lead to problems with memory and attention.

Sleeping medications can cause a wide range of side effects, depending on how long you use them. It’s best to consult with your doctor to avoid certain side effects. Older adults should avoid sleeping medications because the pills can increase issues with memory and orientation. The best way to use sleeping pills safely is to first talk to your doctor. A professional will know what type of medication is best for you, depending on your age, sleeping issues you have, and possible chronic diseases.

What are the Common Side Effects of Sleeping Pills?

The common side effects of sleeping pills vary from person to person. The common side effects of sleeping pills are listed below.

  • Tingling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet: People taking sleep medications may experience tingling throughout the body. Though tingling isn’t necessarily dangerous, it can be uncomfortable and distracting.
  • Constipation: Constipation is when you have fewer than three bowel movements per week. The stool is often dry, hard, lumpy, and may be difficult to pass. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that can be dangerous if not treated.
  • Changes in appetite: Changes in appetite aren’t dangerous but can be frustrating. Taking sleeping pills may make you more hungry or not hungry at all. Some people may have difficulty eating three times a day, while others may eat more frequently than normal.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea is another uncomfortable condition opposite to constipation. Diarrhea when your stool is watery and loose. People with diarrhea have more frequent bowel movements. Diarrhea can be followed by abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea.
  • Dizziness: Dizziness can be a dangerous side effect because you may experience frequent falls. Dizziness is more dangerous for older adults because of the higher risk of injury.
  • Problems with balance: People who take sleep medication may experience problems with balance. Like dizziness, balance difficulties can be dangerous because you might fall and injure yourself.
  • Daytime drowsiness: Daytime drowsiness can be a big problem for many people because they often experience a lack of energy. As a result, most people find it difficult to perform everyday tasks as simple as laundry.
  • Gas: Gas forms in the large intestine by the bacteria to ferment carbohydrates that aren’t digested in the small intestine. Gas can occur due to some medications, including several sleeping pills.
  • Dry throat and mouth: People who take sleeping pills might experience dry throat and mouth at some point. This is not a dangerous side effect, but it can make you feel uncomfortable for as long as it lasts.
  • Heartburn: Heartburn is a pain in your chest area, right behind your breastbone. This condition is a burning pain that’s worse after you take the pills. Heartburn is not that dangerous if it doesn’t occur typically. If it typically occurs, you should seek medical help.
  • Headache: A headache isn’t a dangerous side effect, but it can make it difficult for you to function. Headaches can make it harder to perform daily tasks, affecting your performance at work or school. You can take medication for headaches, but consult with your doctor first because not all medication goes well with sleeping pills.
  • Problems with memory and attention: If you experience problems with memory and attention, it’s best to talk to your doctor about not taking the medication anymore. This is a more severe side effect that can impact your daily life.
  • Stomach tenderness and pain: Stomach tenderness and pain are another common side effect of many sleeping pills. Stomach pain usually goes away after a few days once your body gets used to the medication. If not, you should talk to your doctor about prescribing you another pill.
  • Shaking: Shaking is uncomfortable because you can’t always control it. Shaking can occur suddenly, and you can never know how long it’s going to last. Shaking isn’t considered a common side effect, though.
  • Weakness: Weakness is similar to daytime drowsiness. You will recognize it as a lack of energy, even toward simple tasks. Weakness is not dangerous for your health, but it will affect the quality of your life.
  • Nightmares: Nightmares may occur if you mix sleeping pills with other medication you’re supposed to take before bed. Nightmares are uncomfortable, overwhelming, and can lead to sleep anxiety.

Some side effects of sleeping medication are uncomfortable, while others are dangerous. Daytime drowsiness can be dangerous for people who work with machinery or drive cars most of the day. Many of these side effects can impact the quality of your everyday life, making it hard to work, study or function normally depending on how severe the symptoms are.

Illustration of a Young Man Having a Nightmare

How Dangerous are the Side Effects of Sleep Medication?

The side effects of sleep medications are very dangerous in some situations. They can cause several health problems and make existing health issues even worse. Most sleeping medications can make you dizzy and lightheaded, often leading to falls. Some may even cause an allergic reaction, performance issues, nausea, and daytime memory concerns.

People who need sleeping pills should talk to their doctor. You can get over-the-counter medication to assist you with sleeping, but it’s best to have a doctor supervise the process. Your doctor will know what medication is best for your concern. Some sleeping issues like insomnia can be too complicated to fix on your own using over-the-counter medication.

What are the Serious Problems that Sleeping Pills can Cause?

The serious problems that sleeping pills can cause are listed below.

  • Parasomnias
  • Allergic reaction
  • Dependence

1. Parasomnias

Parasomnia is a sleep disorder that results in unpleasant physical experiences and events that can disrupt your sleep. Parasomnias occur before or during sleep. They can  occur when waking up. A parasomnia may involve doing strange things as you sleep, such as experiencing overwhelming emotions and abnormal movements. This happens as you sleep, but you may seem awake to other people around you.

Parasomnia can cause sleepwalking, sleep terrors, sleep-related eating disorders, and confusional arousals. This can be dangerous because you often don't have control over your actions during these times. The best way to fix this is by talking to your doctor, who can prescribe different medications that may prevent parasomnia.

2. Allergic Reaction

People can have an allergic reaction to sleeping pills. The reaction is typically related to an active or inactive ingredient in the medicine. If you think you have an allergic reaction to sleep medicine, it’s best to stop using it. Some allergic reactions are severe and require immediate medical attention. Signs of an allergic reaction involve difficulty swallowing, swelling, itching, nausea, hives, and rash. A more severe reaction is called anaphylaxis, which can be deadly. The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to consult your doctor about current allergies. You should  read the ingredient list that’s included with all medicines.

Illustration of a Man Having Allergy Reaction and Rash

3. Dependence

Your doctor may advise sleeping pills for a few weeks if you have short-term insomnia. The pills are meant to be used for several weeks only because prolonged use could cause dependence. You can build tolerance on some sleeping pills like benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine if you use them too long. Medicines like Belsomra, Silenor, and Rozerem are non-habit-forming, which means it’s unlikely you’ll become dependent on them. In some cases, you can become psychologically dependent on sleeping medications. Being psychologically and emotionally reliant on sleeping pills can make it difficult to fall asleep without medication. The best way to avoid being dependent on sleeping medication is to consult your doctor. A professional will help you navigate the side effects.

What Interactions Increase the Side Effect of Sleeping Pills?

Interactions that can increase the side effects of sleeping pills include anything that tampers with how the medication works. For example, alcohol’s effect on sleep can be both mild and severe, even if you only drink a little. When beginning the therapy, it’s best to be honest with your doctor. Talk about your symptoms, existing health conditions, and habits that may increase the side effects of sleeping pills. Interactions that can increase the side effects of sleeping pills are as follows.

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Mixing prescription and over-the-counter medication
  • Increasing the dosage without consulting your doctor
  • Suddenly stopping therapy without consulting your doctor

Who Should be Concerned about Sleep Medication?

People who should be concerned about sleep medication are those who already have certain health conditions. This includes individuals with kidney disease, heart rhythm problems, low blood pressure, or a history of seizures. These people can still take sleeping pills but may not have as many options.

Sleep medication may not be safe for older adults and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Some sleeping pills may increase the risk of drowsiness, nighttime falls, and potential injury. Certain ingredients in sleep medication can interact with other medicines you’re taking.

Tired Pregnant Lady Struggling to Fall Asleep

What Should You do if You Experience any Sleep Medication Side Effects?

You should consult with your doctor if you experience sleep medication side effects. If it’s a severe symptom like a rash or swelling, you should call the emergency room. Medical staff working there will tell you what to do depending on what you’re experiencing. If it’s a mild symptom, you can make an appointment to see the doctor who prescribed the medication to you. They will know what to do next.

What Questions Should You Ask Your Doctor About Sleep Medications and their Side Effects?

Questions you should ask your doctor about sleep medications and their side effects vary depending on the drug. Here are the most common questions you may want to ask.

  • What are the common side effects of this sleep medication?
  • How many people experience side effects?
  • What are the most dangerous side effects?
  • What should I do if I experience side effects?
  • Will this sleep medication affect my mood and everyday life?
Content Writer

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

Sleep Advisor