What are Prescription Sleeping pills?

Pronounced as / prɪˈskrɪpʃ(ə)n ˈsli·pɪŋ ˌpɪl/

Prescription sleeping pills are “sedative-hypnotic drugs” that are used to calm or relax patients in order to induce sleep. These controlled medications are only given to patients who have been diagnosed with a sleeping disorder. The prescription comes with the amount of dosage, kind of drug, time and frequency of taking it.

These medications work the same way as benzodiazepines on the receptor site. The main difference between the two lies in their active metabolite. In contrast, these drugs use nonbenzodiazepine compounds such as eszopiclone in Lunesta and bikalm or zolpidem tartrate in Ambien.

What do prescription sleeping pills look like?

There are several brands of these medications in the market which appear in various forms. Some of these are sold in tablet, capsule, or oral spray forms. For benzodiazepine drugs, they’re typically in tablet and capsule forms while an example for oral spray type is Zolpimist.

These drugs also come in different 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 prescription sleeping pills?

These drugs are also known by the following brand and generic names:

  • Belsoram® (suvorexant)
  • Desyrel® (trazodone)
  • Sonata® (zaleplon)
  • Silenor® (doxepin)
  • Rozerem® (ramelteon)
  • Restoril® (temazepam)
  • Prosom® (estazolam)
  • Lunesta® (eszopiclone)
  • Halcion® (triazolam)
  • Dalmane® (flurazepam hydrochloride)
  • Ambien®, Ambien® CR (zolpidem tartrate)

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. Below are the general street names of these drugs.

Here are some street names:

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

What are prescription sleeping pills used for?

These prescription 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 natural mechanism. However, for chronic insomnia, you need to seek medical advice in order to get the right prescription.

How do prescription sleeping pills work?

These medications work the same way as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. They have a nonbenzodiazepine active ingredient which binds to the GABA receptor site of the brain and stimulates the production of the GABA neurotransmitters responsible for depressing brain activity. Examples of nonbenzodiazepine active ingredients used in these medications include eszopiclone and bikalm or zolpidem tartrate.

How strong are prescription 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 describing the potency of a few brands of these drugs.

DrugInduces SleepAble to Let You Stay Asleep Potential for Dependence
Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist)XX
Ambien® CRXXX

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

The time it takes for these medications to be flushed 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 prescription sleeping pills?

These prescription drugs don’t have a high addictive potential compared to benzodiazepines and barbiturates. However, these medications such as Zolpidem and Eszopiclone when used constantly for a longer duration tend to build tolerance and no longer works. In the absence of medical advice, the patient tends to intake more in order to get the same initial result. Likewise, the addiction formed with these medications are more psychological than physical dependence, which is a result of habitual intake.

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

These medications have the general effect of depressing the brain to help solve sleeping problems. However, recent studies have shown that some of these drugs leave enough residues in the morning to cause impairment of motor skills. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered pharmaceutical companies and doctors to reduce their recommended dose for the patients. Likewise, these prescription drugs also induce erratic behaviors such as sleepwalking and amnesia. In contrast, OTC sleeping pills’ relaxing mechanism is a side effect of its antihistamine action where it happens in the histamine receptor site.

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

Despite being less addictive compared to benzodiazepines and barbiturates, still, these drugs have shown fast tolerance development with users. A high constant dose of these medications can lead to depressed breathing while sleeping, which leads to death. As a result, most doctors recommend a medication period of 1 to 2 weeks only. Likewise, most brands of these drugs leave a sufficient amount of residues in the morning which affects the motor skills of the user. Impaired motor skills can lead to incidents like falling or car accidents if the person is driving.

Further, longer duration of taking these drugs can also lead to gradual memory loss and manifestations of parasomnia or abnormal behaviors while sleeping. Lastly, continued dependence and usage of these medications expose you to a higher risk of getting cancer.

What causes prescription sleeping pill overdose?

An overdose from these prescription drugs is largely attributed to the mindset that it’s not that harmful. These drugs are not highly addictive but they have a fast tolerance build among users. Taking in more than what is prescribed by your doctor can definitely lead to overdose. Likewise, habitual intake for one to two weeks can induce psychological dependence. As a result, patients experience difficulty in quitting, thus, continuing to take these medications which could lead to overdose.

What are the signs of an overdose?

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

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

How do you treat prescription sleeping pill overdose?

When a patient experiences 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 prescription 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
  • Difficulty In Sleeping
  • Rebound Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Cravings For The Drug
  • Irritability
  • Intense Sweating
  • Depression
  • Depressed Heartbeat

How can you treat prescription sleeping pill addiction?

Abuse of these prescription drugs can be treated. 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.