Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Sleep Medications

Medications can be used to reduce some sleep-related problems. Each medication targets a specific part of the brain. It is the brain that controls when your body sleeps and when it is awake. This is a complex process that also involves your heart, lungs and muscles.

A medication can provide much needed relief for someone with a severe sleep problem. This can promote good health and an overall sense of well being. But there is also a level of risk involved with the use of any medication. Many people will have some side effects.

Keep in mind that the same drug can affect people in different ways. A medication that helps someone else may not work for you. Your medical provider can determine if a medication is the best treatment for your sleep problem. Never take a medication without the approval of your medical provider.

Disorders Treated

Sleeping pills are the most common sleep-related medication. They are used to treat insomnia. People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also wake up too early or feel unrefreshed after sleeping.

Instead of having trouble falling asleep, some people fall asleep too easily. They have an excessive level of sleepiness when they need to be awake. Stimulants can increase your alertness and concentration. They often are used by people who have hypersomnia or narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy also may take another medication if they have the related symptom of cataplexy.

People who are unable to get enough sleep may also use stimulants when they need to be alert. This is often the case in people who have shift work disorder.

Excessive sleepiness is also a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Treatment with CPAP, an oral appliance or surgery may control the problem and eliminate the sleepiness. If the sleepiness is not resolved, then a stimulant may be combined with one of the other treatments.

People with a movement disorder such as restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movements may require treatment with medication. Your sleep can be disrupted severely by each of these disorders.

Some parasomnias such as REM sleep behavior disorder and confusional arousals can be disturbing and dangerous. Medications may be used to treat them. Sleep related eating disorder is another parasomnia that responds well to treatment with medication.

Taking additional melatonin may help some people who have a circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder. Examples include jet lag disorder and advanced sleep-wake phase disorder. Melatonin is a natural hormone that appears to play a role in helping the body maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle.

Medications are used most often when you have a severe case of a sleep disorder. The potential side effects often outweigh the benefits of using a medication for a mild sleep disorder. Other treatment methods may be better for you if your symptoms are fairly mild.

Updated May 6, 2019