Prescription sleep medicines

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Prescription sleep medicines


Generic NameBrand Name

Benzodiazepines may also be used to provide short-term relief from insomnia.

How It Works

These medicines are called sedative-hypnotics. They help your brain relax so that you can fall asleep.

Why It Is Used

Some people may need medicine for a while to help them fall asleep. Doctors often prescribe medicine for a short time if other treatment isn't working. These medicines work best as a short-term treatment combined with lifestyle and behaviour changes.

How Well It Works

These medicines are effective at treating insomnia. They are the first-choice medicines for short-term insomnia.1

These sleep medicines may not have as many withdrawal and tolerance effects as another class of drugs called benzodiazepines that are used to treat sleep problems. But medicine doesn't work as well over time as lifestyle and behaviour changes do.

Side Effects

Side effects of sleep medicines may vary depending on which one you take. But side effects may include:

  • Daytime drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Headaches.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Changes in appetite or in the way food tastes.
  • Problems with balance or coordination.
  • Confusion and trouble remembering things.
  • Physical problems, such as falling, especially in older people.
  • An allergic reaction.
  • Dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Sleep problems may get worse when you stop taking the medicine.

In rare cases, people taking prescription sleep medicines have done activities, such as driving and eating, while still asleep.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

These medicines may help with sleep problems, but they may not work any better than less expensive non-prescription sleep medicines, such as Sominex or Nytol.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Hirschkowitz M, et al. (2009). Sleep disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol 1, pp. 2150–2177. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Last Revised June 7, 2010

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