Sleep Aids are designed to help promote sleep. Some sleep aids can be bought over the counter. Others are prescribed by a doctor. In either case, these medicines are meant for short-term use.

Over-the-counter formulations are for the occasional sleepless night and are not considered habit forming. Prescription formulations treat longer bouts of sleeplessness but can be habit forming. Classes of prescription medications used to treat sleeping problems include benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Sharing prescription sleeping medication with someone else may cause harm because a prescriber factors in a person’s medical history and current medical conditions when issuing a prescription.

It’s important to remember that sleep aids don’t treat the underlying cause of sleeping problems.

Examples of sleep aids:

Over-the-counter sleep aids   
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Prescription sleep aids
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Nontraditional prescription sleep aids

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What can happen when sleep aids are taken inappropriately?

Taking more of a sleep aid than directed can have several negative consequences, including:

  • dry mouth
  • bizarre dreams
  • forgetfulness
  • lingering grogginess
  • addiction
  • death

Sleep aids slow the rate of breathing and the depth a person breathes while sleeping. Taking too many sleep aids at one time or taking them with other sedatives like alcohol can cause a person to stop breathing.

How can misuse of sleep aids be prevented?

If you’re taking a sleep aid, these steps can help prevent a medication poisoning:

  • Always follow the dosing directions prescribed by your doctor. 
  • Don’t share your medication with others.  Some drug interactions can be life threatening.
  • Make sure all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) are out of the reach of all of the children living in or visiting your home.
  • Be very cautious to avoid accidently taking extra doses when you have already taken a dose.

Call Carolinas Poison Center, your doctor, or your pharmacy if you have questions about your sleep aid and possible drug interactions with other medications.  You don’t have to wait for a problem to arise before calling Carolinas Poison Center.  You can call with questions, too.

What should you do if you or someone you know has taken a sleep aid incorrectly?

If the person is not breathing or not responsive, call 911 immediately.  Otherwise, you can call Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for medication assistance from our specially trained nurses and pharmacists 24 hours a day.

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