reviewed 9/11/2018

Sleep aids: True or false?

If you've ever wrestled with getting a good night's rest, you know how exhausting it can be. Sleep aids can be effective treatments to help you fall asleep. But they're often misunderstood. How much do you know about sleep aids?

True or false: It's OK to take an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid for as long as you want to.

False. If getting to sleep is a struggle only sometimes, an OTC sleep aid may help you get some shuteye. But you shouldn't turn to them on a regular basis. It's best to talk to your doctor to find out what might be causing your insomnia. Before using a sleep aid, find out if it's the right approach.

True or false: Both OTC and prescription sleep aids can be habit-forming.

False. OTC medications are not habit-forming, so you won't get hooked. But your body can develop a tolerance to them. Then they may not work as well for you. On the other hand, most prescription sleeping pills can be habit-forming. If your doctor prescribes a medicine to help you sleep better, you will probably start with the lowest dose possible.

True or false: Sleeping pills can cause side effects.

True. For example, many types of sleep aids may cause daytime drowsiness. And some people may notice memory problems. In rare cases, people taking prescription sleeping pills called hypnotics may have strange behaviors, such as eating or using the phone while asleep. Be sure to read—and follow closely—the drug's directions and warnings.

True or false: Stopping a prescription sleep aid suddenly can have serious side effects.

True. Stopping suddenly could lead to withdrawal symptoms—and more problems falling asleep. If you want to stop using your medicine, talk with your doctor first and follow his or her instructions.

True or false: Taking a sleeping pill in the middle of the night is a good option of you can't get back to sleep.

False. If you wake up and pop a sleeping pill, you could wind up feeling drowsy the next day. And that could be dangerous—for instance, if you drive a car. That's why experts say it's important to take these medicines at the right time. For most sleep aids, that means only when you have enough time to get several hours of sleep.

Even if you use a sleep aid, it's still important to practice healthy sleep habits—such as getting to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Ask your doctor what else you can do to get the Zzzs your body needs.

Visit the sleep topic center

Sources: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; National Institutes of Health; National Sleep Foundation

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