Benzodiazepines - Sleeping PillsSleeping Pills receive a lost of bad press. Many people prefer to work through their insomnia and use natural ways to restore sleep. Although pills have a limited affect on the problem they do have a place in short term treatment.

There are times when sleeping pills can help individuals through a difficult time. During illness, hospitalisation, bereavement or other challenges, a few nights sleep can make all the difference. Other therapies take time and short term medication can help people adjust their sleep pattern and come to terms with events.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are only available on prescription. Most doctors will discuss other ways of helping insomnia before prescribing sleeping pills. These pills are used to reduce anxiety and help relaxation and sleep.

They work by slowing down activity in the brain and should be taken at night. Side affects include forgetfulness, daytime drowsiness and feeling ‘hung over’. Daytime drowsiness may affect coordination and driving and using some machinery should be avoided.

They should only be prescribed for short term use and be individually prescribed. They can help with jet lag and when all other help has failed. Long term use is to be avoided as larger doses are needed to create the same affect. Research has shown that sleeping pills have no long term benefits and withdrawal presents the sufferer with additional problems.

Benzodiazepines include:

  • Temazepam
  • Loprazolam
  • Lormetazepam
  • Diazepan
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Lorazepam

Getting It Right

Doctors will prescribe sleeping pills for short term use. If they are used for longer periods the body builds up tolerance and larger doses are needed in order to gain any benefits from them. A gradual reduction should be advised with help and support for finding other ways to restore long term sleep.

Sleeping pills vary in the time they take to take affect and then leave the bloodstream. Short acting drugs aim to act quickly and are usually eliminated quickly. Long acting drugs take longer to be effective and last longer. The benefit of short acting pills is that they are less likely to cause drowsiness during the day.

The downside is that short acting pills are more likely to cause withdrawal effects.

The ‘Zs’

These are the latest Nonbenzodiazedpines which all start with a Z.

  • Zaleplon
  • Zolpidem
  • Zopiclone

The advantage of these is that they are reported to help a more natural sleep and can cause fewer problems with withdrawal. They should also only be taken for short term help and can cause dependency if taken for longer.

Zs can also cause daytime drowsiness for the first few days. Patients also report dizziness, concentration and memory problems and a bitter taste.

Sleeping pills are a last resort but can help during a crisis. They should be individually prescribed by a doctor who is aware of the physical and mental condition of the patient. Dosage should be adjusted if side effects are severe or debilitating. The elderly are more likely to have problems with side effects and withdrawal.

Sleeping pills continue to be prescribed and many people have found them valuable for short term support. Patients are encouraged to withdraw slowly in consultation with their doctor. Most doctors will suggest other ways to help sleep and how to avoid dependency.

Doctors have limited resources to prescribe alternative help but may be able to offer referrals for counselling. This may be helpful not only in helping with withdrawal ,but also in avoiding the need for medication. Learning how to relax, making changes in diet and other behaviours may also help avoid the need for sleeping pills. Researchers are currently looking at ways to help restore sleep with less side effects ,but for the foreseeable future sleeping pills will continue to fill the need for a night’s sleep when times are hard.