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What are sleep aids?

Sleep aids are medications that temporarily help you fall asleep or sleep through. The most commonly used sleep aids are benzodiazepines
How do sleep aids work?

  • Sleeping medications inhibit your nervous system: you become sluggish and sleepy.
  • Sleep aids have a sedative effect: you become calmer and feel less anxious.
  • Sleeping pills cause your muscles to slacken.

Some sleep aids work briefly and help you fall asleep. Examples include xanaxzolpidem. After a while, sleep medications no longer work. Therefore, do not use sleep aids longer than 2 weeks. If you use them longer, you can become addicted.

A sleep aid can help ééone or a few days sleep a little better. But a sleep aid also has many drawbacks. It is wise to think about that carefully first.

Only in the following situations can you choose to use a sleeping aid temporarily: 

  • Because of a sudden problem or a serious event, you are temporarily unable to sleep. This prevents you from doing the things you normally always do during the day, such as working, studying or taking care of your children. This happens for example after a dismissal or the death of a partner.
  • You have been sleeping too little for a long time. Sleep recommendations do not help enough. This prevents you from doing the things you normally do during the day.

Sorts of sleeping pills


Barbiturates are an old class of drugs. They used to be used primarily as a sleep aid. Barbiturates exert influence on the central nervous system and lower the activity of the brain. These sleep aids are no longer prescribed in the Netherlands for sleep problems because they are both psychologically and physically addictive and the risk of a fatal overdose is high.


Today, most sleep and sedative drugs belong to the group of benzodiazepines. In fact, there is no substantial difference between sleeping and sedative drugs. Finally, when you are calm enough, you are able to fall asleep. Why some are used as sleep aids and others as sedatives has in many cases been nothing more than a marketing decision by the pharmaceutical industry.

Disadvantages and side effects of sleep aids


  • Sleep aids work temporarily. The cause of the insomnia does not disappear.
  • You get used to sleeping pills quickly. If you use them for more than 2 weeks, they help less and less. You need more and more sleeping pills to sleep.
  • It becomes increasingly difficult to stop. You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Some people become addicted.

Side effects
Sleeping drugs stay in your blood longer than they should, some drugs even 2 days. This causes:

  • dullness during the day
    • You are less responsive. You can concentrate less well. You often do not notice this yourself.
    • This gives you more chance of an accident. For example in traffic. Or when driving machines at work.
    • Your memory works less well. You remember especially little of the period shortly after you took a sleep aid.
    • Are you older? Then you are more likely to fall at night or during the day. You can then, for example, break a hip.

Other side effects include:

  • impaired breathing (this can be dangerous in sleep apnea or lung problems)
  • headaches
  • Being sombre
  • Being dizzy
  • little interest in things, little do you care
  • Memory loss
  • Being tired
  • Less willingness to have sex
  • more likely to snore

Do you also use other sleep aids? Or do you take them together with alcohol, drugs or sedatives? If so, these side effects get worse.

How fast and how long do sleep aids work?

The different benzodiazepines differ in the speed of onset of action and in duration of action. These differences are important in determining which drug might work best for certain sleep complaints.

  1. Quick-acting remedies are suitable for problems with falling asleep at the beginning of the night; they are also called sleepers.
  2. Drugs with a longer duration of action are often used with problems sleeping through, but because of the longer duration of action, they can also have unintended effects during the day. For example, it may cause danger when driving a car. It is also possible that the dose from the previous day has not yet worn off when the next dose is already taken, so you get an accumulation of effects.

How do I avoid becoming addicted to a sleep aid?

Have you been taking a sleep aid for a few days and stop? Then you may not sleep well again for a few days. This is because you have become accustomed to the sleep-inducing drug. This is exactly why it is important to stop. This prevents you from becoming dependent on the drug.

Homeopathic sleeping pills

About homeopathic sleeping pills we can be much shorter. Practically every medical professional assumes that homeopathy does not work. You can investigate this even with a placebo and a real pill. This has to do with the way homeopathy is supposed to work. You get a homeopathic remedy by greatly diluting an active ingredient with water. It is then so heavily diluted that the remedy is not even present chemically.

Advisories if you want to use a sleep aid

  • First talk to your doctor about your sleep problems. To solve sleep problems you must first know what caused the problems. Often it already helps to change certain (sleep) habits. You can discuss the pros and cons of a sleep aid with your doctor. Then you can decide to use a sleep aid for one or a few days. 
  • Use a sleep aid only for a few days. Or temporarily 1 night yes, 2 nights no, 1 night yes, and so on.
  • In any case, do not use the sleep medicine longer than 2 weeks.
  • With sleeping pills you should not simply take part in traffic. See medications and traffic.
  • Do not use sleeping pills together with other substances that make you drowsy (certain medicines, alcohol or drugs). The sedatives will then work even stronger.
  • If you are pregnant or have a baby, you should not use sedatives.
  • Are you pregnant or breastfeeding? Do not take any sleeping pills. The sleeping pills will go through the blood or breast milk to the child

Last Updated on December 11, 2021 by Toni El Clikos

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