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Understanding Your Sleep Medication Options

With sleep deprivation at epidemic levels in the United States, people are searching for ways to get the rest that they need. Though most sleep specialists believe that sleeping pills should only be used for brief periods of time and prefer that patients try to find and treat the cause of their sleeplessness, they also understand that there are some times when people simply need to turn to medication. If you are considering discussing sleeping aids with your physician, it’s a good idea to know what your different options are. Keep in mind that though each of the medications listed below is commonly used to treat sleeplessness, of the options presented below only the first three have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration specifically for the treatment of insomnia. The others are medications created to treat other conditions that some physicians prescribe for their sedative properties.

1. Benzodiazepine-receptor agonists

The most commonly prescribed of these types of drugs are Valium, Klonopin, Lunesta and Ambien. Some are also used for the treatment of anxiety. Some of these drugs last longer in the body than others, and those are the ones that are most helpful for sleep problems.

2. Melatonin-agonists

Melatonin is the hormone produced naturally by the body to help us go to sleep each night. Melatonin agonists are particularly helpful for those who are trying to get to sleep at a time that is outside of their regular bedtime, such as travelers trying to overcome jetlag.

3. Orexin receptor antagonists

This is a relatively new class of drugs. Orexin receptor agonists block the brain from receiving signals from the hormone orexin, which keeps us awake.

4. Sedating antidepressants

Many antidepressants such as Trazodone are known for making people drowsy. As a result, some doctors have used low doses of this medication to help people to get to sleep at night.

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5. Anticonvulsant medications

People who have been prescribed medications to counteract convulsions have found that medications such as Gabapentin make them drowsy and increase their ability to sleep through the night. Gabapentin is often prescribed for those who have troubles with awakening in the middle of the night.

6. Neuroleptics

Best exemplified by the drug Seroquel, neuroleptics are antipsychotic drugs. Though they can be helpful for those suffering from sleeplessness, doctors pointedly avoid their use in the elder population because they have been shown to cause irregular heartbeats.

7. Antihistamines

Antihistamines are familiar to most people as the medications that they take to counter allergies. They are sold in over-the-counter formulations as sleep aids because they make people drowsy, but people need to be cautious when they take them because they can also cause fuzzy thinking. People taking antihistamines should be careful when driving or operating heavy machinery.

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