Last updated: Nov 14, 2008

When used correctly, sleep medications may provide rapid relief of the symptoms of insomnia. But not all options have been shown to be effective for long-term treatment of insomnia. And many of these medicines can cause side effects such as low blood pressure, anxiety, and nausea. Evidence suggests that these medicines also may become less effective when your body gets used to them.

Not all sleep aids are the same; some you can buy over-the-counter, while others require a doctor's prescription. Here are a few options you may discuss with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Hypnotic medications, such as benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines, help you fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Antidepressants that have a calming or sedative effect may be prescribed to aid sleep.
  • Antihistamines, typically used to treat allergies, can be effective for short-term relief of sleeplessness. For this reason, antihistamines are included in many over-the-counter sleep aids.
  • Nonprescription medications for sleep can help but also can have side effects, such as drowsiness the next day. Many of these contain antihistamines. Over time, these medicines may not work as well as they first did.
  • Rozerem is a different type of sleep medicine that helps regulate your body's internal clock. Rozerem has few side effects and appears to be non-habit-forming.
When taking sleep medications, its best to take them for a short period of time at the lowest-effective dose. Its important to stop use as soon as you can; older adults especially can become dependent on sleep-enhancing drugs.

The most successful long-term treatment results have been achieved with behavior therapy. Unlike medications, behavior modification both improves sleep quality and helps you learn how to fall asleep, without side effects.