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Sleep Aids are medications designed to help promote sleep.  Some sleep aids can be bought over the counter while others are prescribed by a doctor.  In either case, these medicines are intended to be used for the short-term and should not be used chronically to manage sleep disorders unless under the supervision of a doctor.

Over-the-counter formulations are for the occasional sleepless night and are not considered habit forming. Prescription formulations treat longer bouts of sleeplessness but can be habit forming when used repeatedly. Classes of prescription medications used to treat sleeping problems include benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Sharing prescription sleeping medication with someone else may cause harm.  Do not share prescription sleeping medication with another person. Prescribers factor in a person’s individual medical history and current medical conditions when issuing a prescription.

It’s important to remember that sleep aids don’t treat the underlying cause of sleeping problems. 

Examples of sleep aids:

Over-the-counter sleep aids   
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Prescription sleep aids
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Nontraditional prescription sleep aids

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What can happen when sleep aids are taken inappropriately?

Taking more of a sleep aid than directed can have several negative consequences, including:

  • dry mouth
  • bizarre dreams
  • forgetfulness
  • lingering grogginess
  • addiction
  • death

Sleep aids slow the rate of breathing and the depth a person breathes while sleeping. Taking too many sleep aids at one time or taking them with other sedatives like alcohol can cause a person to stop breathing.

How can misuse of sleep aids be prevented?

If you’re taking a sleep aid, these steps can help prevent a medication poisoning:

  • Always follow the dosing directions prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t share your medication with others.  Some drug interactions can be life threatening.
  • Make sure all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) are out of the reach of all of the children living in or visiting your home.
  • Be very cautious to avoid accidently taking extra doses when you have already taken a dose.

Call NC Poison Control, your doctor, or your pharmacy if you have questions about your sleep aid and possible drug interactions with other medications.  You don’t have to wait for a problem to happen before calling NC Poison Control.  You can call with questions, too.

What should you do if you or someone you know has taken a sleep aid incorrectly?

If the person is not breathing or not responsive, call 911 immediately.  Otherwise, you can call NC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or chat from this site for medication assistance from our specially trained nurses and pharmacists 24 hours a day.

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Last Updated on 12/13/2023