What are Sleeping pills?

Pronounced as /ˈsli·pɪŋ ˌpɪl/

Sleeping pills are categorized as “sedative-hypnotic” drugs that are used to calm or relax patients in order to induce sleep. Subclasses under sedative-hypnotic drugs include benzodiazepines, barbiturates and other agents such as carbamates, alcohols, and cyclic ethers. Several new drugs of the same action are also available in the market, such as anxiolytic buspirone, melatonin and orexin, and novel drugs to manage sleeping problems.

These drugs can be grouped into two types: prescription drugs and over-the-counter types. The prescription types must come from trusted medical personnel and provide information relating to the strength of the drug, frequency of dose, and duration of medication. Meanwhile, over-the-counter types commonly contain antihistamine components which easily builds tolerance for the patient. The common side effect for OTC types is the “hangover”.

What do sleeping pills look like?

There are a lot of these medications in the market which appear in numerous forms. Some of these are sold in tablet, capsule, or oral spray forms. Most of the benzodiazepine drugs are in tablet and capsule forms while an example of an oral spray type is Zolpimist. These medications also come in various colors and imprints or pill identifiers. Typically, the pill imprints include the brand name and the strength (usually expressed in milligrams) of the active component. Some tablets have unique perforations as an added pill identifier.

What are the other names of Sleeping pills?

This drug is also known by the following names:

  • Diphenhydramine
  • GABA medicines
  • Sleep-wake cycle modifiers
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Sedative-hypnotic drugs

What are the street names?

These drugs are known in the streets by different names, depending on the area or what they are mixed with.

Here are some street names:

  • Sleepers
  • Zombie pills
  • Downers
  • Tranks
  • A-
  • Candy pills
  • Planks
  • French fries
  • Totem poles

What are sleeping pills used for?

These drugs are used for the management and treatment of sleeping disorders. Difficulty in sleeping is attributed to several factors such as poor sleeping habits, stress, depression, medications, jet lag, and disease. Normal sleeping problems can be treated by the body’s normal mechanism. However, for chronic insomnia, you need to seek medical advice in order to get the right prescription.

How do sleeping pills work?

The two types work differently but give the same result which is the relaxation of the brain and body. The prescription type contains a nonbenzodiazepine active ingredient which binds to the GABA receptor site of the brain. Once bound to the receptor site, it stimulates the secretion of GABA neurotransmitters which opens chloride channels to saturate the neurons with chloride ions. This reaction slows down brain activity and induces muscle relaxation.

In contrast, the OTC type contains antihistamine as an active ingredient that works on the histamine receptor site of the brain. The drowsing effect happens when the antihistamine blocks the histamine from binding in the receptor site. Some drugs of this type are added with Acetaminophen (a pain reliever) to further enhance the relaxing effect.

How strong are sleeping pills?

The strength of these medications depends on the active component and dosage taken by the patient. Most of it is classified by the DEA under Schedule IV controlled substances.

Here is a summary chart showing the strengths of various types.



Duration of Effects

DiphenhydramineWorks on the histamine receptor sites of the brain to induce sleepiness4-6 hours

Selective GABA Medicines

· Ambien

· Ambien CR

· Lunesta

· Sonata

Works on the GABA receptor site in the brain6-8 hours

Sleep-wake cycle Modifiers

· Rozerem

Activates the melatonin receptor sites in the brain which controls the body’s sleep-wake patterns4-6 hours


· Ativan

· Halcion

· Restoril

· Valium

· Xanax

Binds and works on the GABA receptor site of the brain4 to more than 12 hours

Tricyclic Antidepressants

· Adapin

· Aventyl

· Elavil

· Pamelor

· Sinequan

· Trazodone

Binds to various multiple brain receptor sites including acetylcholineNot stated

How long do sleeping pills stay in your system, blood, urine, saliva, hair?

The time it takes for these medications to flush out from your system depends on the type of drug taken. Below is an average estimation of how long these drugs stay in your system.

  • Blood test: 1 to 6 days
  • Urine test: 5 to 7 days
  • Saliva test: up to 3 days
  • Hair test: up to 90 days

How does one get addicted to sleeping pills?

Addiction to these medications happens due to tolerance and drug dependence. Some signs which indicate you have been dependent include a hard time of stopping, drug cravings, seeing more than one medical personnel for refills and memory loss.

How does sleeping pill use affect the brain and the body?

These drugs slow down the neural activity of the brain, induces muscle relaxation and slower breathing. This effect is achieved when these medications bind to the GABA receptor site and stimulate the production of GABA neurotransmitters.

What are the short and long-term effects of sleeping pills?

Aside from inducing sleepiness and relaxation, there are other short-term and long-term effects associated with the use of these drugs.

Short-term effects:

  • State of lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Inflammation feeling in the arms, hand, feet and legs
  • An abnormal change in appetite
  • Dry mouth

Long-term effects:

  • Uncontrollable body shaking
  • Gradual memory loss
  • Heartburn
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Sleepwalking
  • Nightmares

Why are sleeping pills dangerous?

The intensity of negative health effects depends on the kind of drug taken and the dosage. In comparison with other illicit substances, these medications have lower addictive potential but pose high propensity for tolerance and dependence. Significant precautions and monitoring must be done as the patient usually cannot tell if he is already dependent on the drug. Severe adverse effects of these medications include low blood pressure, low muscle tone, degraded reflexes, depression, suicidal behavior, coma, and death.

What causes a sleeping pill overdose?

There are several reasons for overdose. One major factor is the easy availability of these drugs, particularly the OTC types which people often use whenever they experience sleeping problems. Another reason for overdose is mixing different pills to get a rapid result and combining it with other substances for recreational purposes.

What are the signs of an overdose?

When someone is suffering from an overdose, the following signs and symptoms are likely to occur:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Abdominal problems such as constipation and diarrhea
  • Respiratory dysfunction

How do you treat sleeping pill overdose?

When a patient experiences a drug overdose, the following steps can be done:

  • Check and monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • You can do gastric lavage to remove some of the chemicals inside the stomach
  • You can administer intravenous fluids
  • Maintain sufficient airway for the patient
  • In cases of low blood pressure, apply vasopressors
  • Let the patient ingest activated charcoal to absorb some of the substances inside the body.
  • Allow the patient to take flumazenil or romazicon to counteract the effect of the prescription drug.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from sleeping pills?

Withdrawal from using these medications can result in varying physical and mental discomfort which is specific to a person. Below are some of the evident signs and symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Tremors
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Irritability
  • Intense sweating
  • Depression
  • Depressed heartbeat

How can you treat sleeping pill addiction?

Abuse of these medications is treatable. Treatment must be done step-by-step for complete recovery. You can consider the following steps for your treatment process:

  • Consult your medical personnel or clinician for a comprehensive guideline in order to recover from drug dependence.
  • Reward System: A contingency management plan where sets of rewards will be given to the patients who avoid using this substance.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A treatment process seeking to determine the variables causing drug abuse, risk reduction methods, and enhancing coping mechanisms.
  • Recovery Group: A community-based plan which allows the patient to meet other victims and have a sharing about their experiences and success.