Maybe, but maybe not. A prescription sleeping pill might help you sleep, but the possible side effects might be even worse than not sleeping.
Doctors generally advise interested patients that sleeping pills are safe in the short term, perhaps for a week or two, but that’s it. After that, the patient need to find a behavioral solution, which begs the question of why not explore that instead of taking a pill? For example, relaxation techniques, changes in diet, and possibly an exercise program could make a difference in helping you sleep.
But people sometimes opt for a pill because it’s immediate and easy. Someone might expect that with a good night’s sleep they’ll be able to figure out their sleep problem and get back on track. They think they need a good night’s sleep to do that. Sounds reasonable, but what about the side effects?
Not all pills work in the same way; not all pills produce the same side effects; and people respond differently to specific medications. So how a certain medication will work for you, and whether you’ll experience any unwanted side effects, will depend on your unique circumstances.
So what are the possible side effects from prescription sleeping pills?
Some people experience breathing problems in which their breathing becomes depressed, which in the worst case could result in death. When morning comes and you need to be up, you might not be able to come fully awake. For example, some people report having difficulty driving in the morning because they’re still under the influence of a pill. This problem is particularly prevalent when using a time-released type of medication.
Other people report experiencing erratic behavior following the use of a prescription sleeping pill. Common problems are walking in your sleep, some form of amnesia, or not understanding where you are when you wake up. If you do want to take pills, it’s probably a good idea to have someone close by who can check in with you in case you need assistance.
Falling down can be another problem, especially for older people and for those who already have some kind of balance issue.
People sometimes develop a tolerance to a medication, and then they need more pills, or stronger pills, to get the same relief.
One study reported that people who take sleeping pills are more likely to get cancer, but it was only one study and more information is needed before conclusions are reached. If you do take sleeping pills, you are advised to report any side effects to your doctor as soon as you experience them. The doctor may be able to change the dosage or prescribe a different pill.
Finally, you’ll need a plan for stopping the pills. You’ll need to work with your doctor and develop a schedule where you slowly tapper off to safely stop the medication. And you’ll need to watch for what’s called rebound insomnia, which means that you might experience a worsening off your sleep problem when you stop the pills.