Overview of sleeping pill side effects

All prescription sleeping pills have side effects, which can vary depending on the specific drug, the dosage, and how long the drug lasts in our system. Sleeping pills have side effects like most medications. Common side effects include headache, muscle aches, constipation, dry mouth, daytime sleepiness, trouble concentrating, dizziness, unsteadiness, and rebound insomnia.

Your doctor may be able to alert you to the possibility of side effects if you have asthma or other health conditions as sleeping pills make you breathe more slowly and less deeply. That can be dangerous for people with uncontrolled lung problems such as asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

Sedative-hypnotic drug products (benzodiazepines and Z-drugs) can cause severe allergic reaction, facial swelling, memory lapses, hallucinations, and complex sleep-related behaviours like sleep-walking, sleep-driving (driving while not fully awake, with no memory of the event) and sleep-eating (eating in the middle of the night with no recollection).

It’s quite typical to feel clumsiness, drowsiness, and confusion in the night if you have to get up. For example, you may fall over and injure yourself if you get up in the night to go to the toilet. Some people have fallen down stairs due to the drowsy effect of sleeping tablets. Older people who take sleeping tablets have an increased risk of breaking their hip, as the result of a fall.

Tolerance and dependency

Sleeping pills also create a fast tolerance to their effects. With benzodiazepines and Z-drug sleeping tablets (if taking them each night) our bodies become used to them very fast. This means that, in time, the usual dose has no effect. We then need a higher dose for it to work. In time, the higher dose does not work, and we need an even higher dose, and so on. It only takes between 3-14 days of continued use to become ‘tolerant’ to a benzodiazepine or Z-drug sleeping tablet.

Most severe consequence of using sleeping pills is dependence. Some people become dependent (addicted) to benzodiazepines or Z-drugs. This means that withdrawal symptoms occur if the tablets are stopped suddenly. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, shaking, or just feeling awful making cutting off use of pills very challenging. This vicious circle will enforce long-term use without true benefits for better sleep.

Common side effects

Common side effects of prescription sleeping pills may include:

  • Burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty keeping balance
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness the next day
  • Drug dependence
  • Drug tolerance
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Forgetfulness
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • Unusual dreams
  • Weakness
  • Withdrawal symptons

Use of sleeping pills can also mask an underlying problem. There may be an underlying medical or mental disorder causing insomnia that can’t be treated with sleeping pills.

If you experience any unusual sleep-related behaviour, consult your doctor immediately. It’s important to be aware of possible sleeping pill side effects so you can stop the drug and call your doctor immediately to avoid a more serious health problem.


Some sleeping pills have potentially harmful side effects, including parasomnias. Parasomnias are behaviors and actions over which you have no control, like sleepwalking. During a parasomnia, we are asleep and unaware of what is happening.

Parasomnias with sleeping pills are complex sleep behaviors and may include sleep eating, making phone calls, or having sex whilst in a sleeping state. Sleep driving, which is driving while not fully awake, is another serious sleeping pill side effect. Though rare, parasomnias are difficult to detect once the medication takes effect.

Allergic reaction

Some people may have an allergic reaction when taking a sleeping pill and should avoid them. Do talk to your doctor at the first sign of these side effects, including:

  • Blurred vision or any other problems with your sight
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Feeling that the throat is closing
  • Hives
  • Hoarseness
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Vomiting

In addition, a serious — even deadly — side effect of any medicine to someone with an allergy to it  is anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction. Another possible effect is angioedema, which is severe facial swelling. Again, discuss these possibilities with your doctor if you are at risk of allergic reactions.

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