Is It Bad To Take Sleeping Pills Every Night?

Lifestyle changes and other therapies may be better than sleeping pills for curing insomnia.

Prescription medication can get you through a few sleepless nights and back on track, but some experts agree: Sleeping pills are not the best choice for long-term use.

But if you're getting the best sleep you've had in months while using nightly prescription medications, why (and when and how) should you stop using them? Well, the answers to those questions are different for everyone. So, you should consult a healthcare provider if you're weaning off prescription medications.

In the meantime, here's what you should know about the risks of using sleep pills nightly for long periods and advice on when to stop using them.

How To Get Healthy Sleep

How much sleep should you be getting every night? Recommendations on the amount of sleep you need change through childhood. But adults aged 18–60 should be getting at least seven hours a night.

Getting healthy sleep is vital for your overall health. When you're asleep, your body and brain recover from the day's activities. And in children, sleep plays an additional role in proper growth and development.

The following tips can help support sleep quantity and quality:

  • Ensure your bedroom encourages sleep: Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark. Keep the television and your phone off.
  • Keep your sleep schedule the same daily: Go to bed and wake up around the same time, even on weekends.
  • No caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol close to bedtime: Alcohol might make you sleepy. But you may sleep lighter than normal, making you frequently wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Get regular physical activity during the day: Make sure your exercise is five to six hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid napping: Those afternoon naps can throw off your sleep schedule.
  • Eat your meals on a consistent schedule: Also, avoid eating late in the day.
  • Limit your fluid intake close to bedtime: You're less likely to get up to use the bathroom than if you drink a lot of water before sleeping.
  • Discuss your over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications with a healthcare provider: Something you're taking could interfere with your sleep.
  • Find ways to relax and calm yourself before bedtime: Try reading, deep breathing, taking a bath, or listening to relaxing music.

Sleep Therapies Without Medication

In addition to sleeping pills, there are several other methods that healthcare providers may recommend to treat insomnia, which include:

  •  Ultraviolet (UV) light therapy: With UV light therapy, you sit in front of a bright light box similar to natural sunlight. The light regulates your melatonin to readjust your sleep/wake cycle.
  • Orofacial therapy: This therapy involves exercises for your mouth and tongue. The exercises help strengthen those muscles. Healthcare providers may suggest orofacial therapy to treat sleep apnea.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Generally, CBT is one of the first steps in treatment for long-term insomnia. A healthcare provider helps reset your attitude about insomnia and sleep, helping you relax easily and stay asleep.

Also, some evidence suggests that CBT and simple lifestyle changes are generally better than prescription medications at curing long-term insomnia. Generally, spending a few sessions with a therapist can teach you techniques that you can refer back to for years to come.

If you've tried all the different ways to encourage sleep without sleeping pills and still have trouble, talk with a healthcare professional about using prescription medication.

Sleeping Pill Safety and Efficacy

"With drugs, it can become a constant reliance," Ralph Downey, PhD, sleep medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Health. "We don't want people in the middle of the desert without pills, having nothing to fall back on."

Some people may not have the time to devote to attending therapy or changing their sleeping habits. For those people, prescription medication may be the treatment that works best for them. But ultimately, the choice should be yours, with the help of a healthcare professional.

Sleeping Pill Types

Taking sleeping pills may help with short- or long-term insomnia. There are four types of prescription sleeping pills, and most are strong hypnotics, which include:

  • Benzodiazepine receptor agonists 
  • Melatonin receptor agonists 
  • Orexin receptor antagonists, which are not recommended for people with narcolepsy)
  • Benzodiazepines, which can interact dangerously with other medicines

Just as with any medication, there can be side effects. One of the most common side effects is daytime drowsiness. Some other side effects are allergic reactions or strange nocturnal behaviors, such as walking, driving, or eating while asleep.

Talking with a healthcare provider to weigh the benefits and risks over time is important. 

Taking Sleeping Pills Safely

Here are some ways to take prescription medications safely:

  • Always talk with a healthcare provider before taking a sleeping pill.
  • Let a healthcare provider know what other medications you're taking and your health conditions, including high blood pressure or liver problems.
  • Read the package insert that comes with your sleeping pills.
  • Follow the directions on your prescription medication. Never take more than your prescription.
  • Never drink alcohol near the time you're planning on taking a sleeping pill.
  • Never drive or operate machinery after taking a sleeping pill.
  • Only take a sleeping pill when you can devote at least seven to eight hours to a full night's sleep.
  • Try to take your first dose of the sleeping pill on a night when you don't have to be anywhere the next day.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you have sleep med problems.

Long-Term Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

A short sleeping pill regimen can help you get good, quality rest. But incorporating good sleeping habits can help avoid the process of acute insomnia becoming chronic. 

"Pills can work wonders during a short period of stress," Michael J. Sateia, MD, chief of sleep medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, told Health. "[Healthcare providers] need to manage for the short term to prevent patients from falling into the cycle. It's an ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure."

If you're taking sleeping pills longer than one month and still have trouble falling asleep, consult a healthcare provider again. Research has found that long-term use of sleeping pills is not healthy. 

For example, one study published in 2019 in BMJ Open looked at people taking hypnotics or anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications) consistently for three years. The researchers found that those medications increased their mortality in a dose-dependent manner. Based on those results, the researchers suggested limiting use to two to four weeks.

Another study published in 2015 in Drugs - Real World Outcomes looked at a group of people taking sleeping pills over two years. Those people, especially those taking benzodiazepines, also had increased mortality.

A Quick Review

Getting a good night's sleep is vital to your overall health. Try to encourage healthy sleep by keeping your bedroom dark and cool, not eating or drinking before bed, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule. 

You can also talk to a healthcare provider about sleep therapy without prescription medication. But if you still have trouble sleeping, discuss with a healthcare provider if a sleeping pill will help you get some rest.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Are you getting enough sleep?.

  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Why is sleep important?.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep disorder treatments.

  4. Porwal A, Yadav YC, Pathak K, Yadav R. An Update on Assessment, Therapeutic Management, and Patents on InsomniaBiomed Res Int. 2021;2021:6068952. doi:10.1155/2021/6068952

  5. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Ten safety tips for taking sleeping pills for insomnia.

  6. Linnet K, Sigurdsson JA, Tomasdottir MO, Sigurdsson EL, Gudmundsson LS. Association between prescription of hypnotics/anxiolytics and mortality in multimorbid and non-multimorbid patients: a longitudinal cohort study in primary careBMJ Open. 2019;9(12):e033545. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-033545

  7. Sivertsen B, Madsen IE, Salo P, Tell GS, Øverland S. Use of Sleep Medications and Mortality: The Hordaland Health StudyDrugs Real World Outcomes. 2015;2(2):123-128. doi:10.1007/s40801-015-0023-8

Related Articles