Benzodiazepines for Sleep Problems

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Benzodiazepines for Sleep Problems

Topic Overview

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. But medicine doesn't work as well over time as lifestyle and behaviour changes do. Sleep medicine can also become habit-forming. Medicine works best as a short-term treatment combined with lifestyle and behaviour changes.

Benzodiazepines provide short-term relief from insomnia. These medicines help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Examples are diazepam (such as Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan). Side effects of benzodiazepines can include:1

  • Dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Sleep problems may get worse when you stop taking the medicine.
  • Daytime drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Physical problems, such as falling, especially in older people.

Benzodiazepines make it hard to recall memories. They also seem to affect how much of the hormone melatonin your body makes at night. Melatonin helps you sleep and wake up on a regular schedule.

Caution

  • In rare cases, people taking these medicines have done activities, such as driving and eating, while still asleep.
  • Using some hypnotics may actually make sleep apnea and other breathing disorders worse.1
  • These medicines can cause a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

References

Citations

  1. Estivill E, et al. (2003). Consensus on drug treatment, definition, and diagnosis for insomnia. Clinical Drug Investigations, 23(6): 351–385.

Credits

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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