A Quick Guide to Common Prescription Sleep Aids

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

do, nonbenzodiazepines act only on a few, and therefore tend to have fewer side effects and limited impact on deep sleep.  Nevertheless, these drugs are known to contribute to memory loss and next-day fatigue.  Common medications include the so-called Z class of Zolpidem, Eszopiclone, and Zaleplon.



Until relatively recently, insomnia was thought to be a side effect of the depression: By treating the mental health condition with antidepressants, doctors believed it could benefit insomnia as well. In theory, the drugs can work as sleep aids because they alter brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which can have a sedating effect.  However, more recent research suggests that antidepressants may actually contribute to a person’s insomnia, and many studies are inconclusive about how much this class of medication helps or hurts the sleep process. The most commonly prescribed antidepressant for sleep is Trazadone. Other medications include Doxepine and Amitriptyline.



Discovered in the 1950s and first explored as a prescription sleep aid in the 1990s, melatonin is a hormone that regulates your circadian cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Levels of melatonin naturally rise at night, making you feel sleepier. If you are having trouble falling asleep, increasing melatonin via medication before bed may help. Unlike other sleeping aids, melatonin has relatively few known side effects, and it is not believed to be addictive.  However, the effectiveness of melatonin as a sleep aid is moderate at best.  Ramelteon is a common prescription melatonin. Synthetic melatonin is also available as an over-the-counter supplement but it may be even less effective than prescription melatonin.


Talk with your doctor about the available options, as well as lifestyle changes you can explore that will make falling—and staying—asleep easier.


Chart: Sleep Aids at a Glance

Drug type Common names How it works
Orexin receptor antagonists  Suvorexant  Inhibits chemical that increases alertness. 
Benzodiazepines  Flurazepam, Triazolam  Slows brain activity by enhancing GABA activity. 
Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics  Zolpidem, Eszopiclone  Enhances GABA to slow brain activity. 
Antidepressants  Trazadone, Doxepine  Sedates by altering serotonin and norepinephrine levels. 
Melatonin  Ramelteon  Increases chemical responsible for sleep/wake cycle. 
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