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A vial of sleeping pills

Sedatives are substances that induces sedation; calming, soothing, inducing sleep, tranquilizing. Also known as sleeping pills and tranquizers, they are used to treat insomnia (sleeping difficulties), and the reduction of anxiety, tension, stress, irritability or excitement. Although sedatives help many people, the medications can become addictive or have other dangerous side effects.



Tranquilizers are considered to be sedatives that act as central nervous system depressants. There are two types of sedative tranquilizers. The first is Barbiturates, they are prescribed sedatives that can also be considered sleeping pills. The second is Benzodiazepines which are prescribed tranquilizers. These are multi-colored tablets or capsules which can also be found in liquid form. These sedatives are mostly used for anxiety, but they can also be used for tension, sleep disorders, and acute stress reactions. Only Benzodiazepines can be used for panic attacks because it is a tranquilizer. If someone is prescribed a sedative tranquillizer, they are at risk of getting the euphoria (feeling of well-being or elation). It can also cause slowing of normal brain function; which can cause many complications to perform a normal day. If prescribed a higher dosage of sedatives it can cause impairment of memory and, judgment and coordination. Some people abuse or take sedatives with alcohol which can cause slow breathing or slow the heart. This can eventually cause death. Some people have to take sedatives for a long time and if that happens they start to become dependent on the sedative. This causes withdrawals, which could be seizures. Some people build up a tolerance to the sedatives. When that happens people have to start taking higher doses, but this could lead to overdose and death. [1] Sedatives are used for calming people by reducing anxiety and regulating organ systems. Light doses of sedatives can help reduce coughing, nausea, or convulsions. While taking higher dosages can help with chronic sleeping problems, severe anxiety, symptoms related to psychotic disorders (such as hallucinations or delusions), or as part of anesthesia for surgery. It is also very important to talk to a doctor or health professional before taking any sedatives or tranquilizers because it is easy to become dependent on tranquilizers which causes serious health problems.[1]


Sleeping pills tablets

Prescription sleeping pills are normally classified as sedative hypnotics. These medications work by having the receptors in the brain slow down which causes the nervous system to slow causing the person to become drowsy or stay asleep longer. There are two types of sleeping pills, one is to keep a person sleeping longer and the other is to help someone fall asleep.[2] To be able to receive prescription sleeping pills they must be prescribed by a doctor after a series of questions. Doctors try to reduce side effects, so most people will also take tests. Since some sleeping pills may become addictive doctors will only prescribe them for two weeks to see if they really need the pills.[3]

Benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics have been used for many generations and are most commonly used. They are known to be the most addictive, but new research has made these sedatives become less addictive. Benzodiazepine medication causes people to become both physically and mentally reliant, some people believe that they can not sleep without taking these pills, which causes them anxiety. People also start to become desensitized from the pills because the brain receptors become used to the pills being used or the pills will make sleep shorter or not as deep. They can also cause next day drowsiness or, what is called, "the hangover effect." Before taking these medications people must take multiple precautions to avoid the side effects. Many people do not listen to their doctor or read the directions carefully. Always allow seven or eight hour sleeps before taking the sleeping pills and avoid drinking alcohol or driving or operating machinery.[2]

Although prescription sleeping pills are not as addictive as they used to be, there are many that still cause great dependency. The best way to avoid becoming addicted to sleeping pills is by talking to a doctor first about any possibilities of addictive or dependency problems.[3] Sedatives are normally prescribed for people with great anxiety, depression, and sometimes sleeping problems, but sleeping pills are normally only prescribed for sleeping problems. Many doctors have to be cautious when prescribing older people sedatives or sleeping pills because they have a higher risk of falling asleep before they reach their beds and injuring themselves or committing suicide.[4]


Over-the-counter, or OTC, sleep aids' are not sedatives. Their main ingredient is antihistamine, which is normally taken for allergies. Antihistamines make people very drowsy which helps people who have trouble sleeping fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine are also common ingredients for popular sleeping pills such as Nytol, Sominex, Sleepinal, Compoz, Unisom, and Nighttime Sleep Aid. People can build a tolerance to this pill easily forcing them to take higher dosages of the pill for it to work properly. Many people say that these sleeping pills work, but through research it shows that these pills do not work as well because of the side effects that they cause. There is not enough proof to really show that these medications work well. The side effects can be more severe depending on the age of the person or the diseases that the person has. If someone has glaucoma, trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland, or a breathing problem such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. The most common side effects are: drowsiness the next day, dizziness, forgetfulness, clumsiness or feeling off balance, constipation and urinary retention, blurred vision, and dry mouth and throat.[2]

Side Effects

Every sleeping pill has side effects just like any other medications. Doctors can help people reduce or avoid side effects by testing people or asking various questions. It is important to know these side effects before taking any sleeping pill so that people can tell that they are having side effects from the sleeping pills. If someone has asthma and then starts taking sleeping pills their asthma can kill them because sleeping pills slow your breathing and if a person can not control their breathing they can easily die. Other side effects are:

  • Burning or tingling of the hands, arms, or feet
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty keeping balance
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a certain part of the body
  • Unusual dreams
  • Weakness

These are only basic side effects; some sleeping pills can cause very dangerous side effects. A very dangerous side effect is parasomnias. Parasomnias is were someone can not control what they are doing or how they are acting because they are asleep. Some people will sleep eat, make phone calls, or even have sex while still asleep. Sleeping driving is another side effect of some sleeping pills which can be dangerous for the person and anyone around. People effected by parasomnias can not be detected once it takes over the person. It is very important for people taking sedatives that have this side effect to only take the dosage that the doctor prescribed because if more is taken this will raise the risk of parasomnias. If someone has an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill they can become more severe. These side effects are:

  • 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

A more serious allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which can become deadly. Another serious allergic reaction is angioedema. This is very severe facial swelling. All of these effects can be avoided if a doctor is contacted at the first sight of the symptoms or they are informed of these before taking the pills. [5]


Since it is easy for the body to get used to sleeping pills they can become addictive. The body will become more and more tolerant of the sedatives forcing people to raise the dosage of the sleeping pills. Many people taking sleeping pills find it hard to get off the pills even if they do not work anymore. This happens because people are afraid of going through the withdrawals. People become both emotionally and physically attached to the sleeping pills. Many people feel that they are no longer able to cope without the sleeping pills and when they suffer from the physical withdrawals with makes them stay on the pills longer. Most doctors will even keep prescribing the sleeping pills without giving the people any help with withdrawals.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Prescription Sedatives and Tranquillizers Partnership for a Drug-Free America. 2010 .
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sleeping Pills, Sleep Aids and Medications Joanna Saisan, MSW, Gina Kemp, M.A., and Suzanne Barston. July 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Insomnia Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 1998-2010
  4. Sleeping pill suicide risk for older peopleBy BMJ Group. Guardian News and Media Limited. 2010
  5. Understanding the Side Effects of Sleeping Pills WebMD, LLC. 2005-2010.

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