Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Safe use of sleeping pills

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Sleeping pills are used to help you fall asleep and stay asleep for longer.
  • Sleeping pills should only be used short time, to reduce the chance of becoming dependent on them.
  • Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • These are many ways to improve your sleep without using medicines.

What are sleeping pills used for?

Sleeping pills are medicines designed to help you fall asleep or stay asleep, and are sometimes used to help treat insomnia. Sleeping pills can have serious side effects, so if you are having sleep problems it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional.

It’s important to remember that sleeping pills might help you sleep, but they do not treat the cause of your insomnia.

What are the different types of sleeping pills?

Some sleeping pills are prescription medicines while others can be purchased over the counter. Some medicines can cause you to become sleepy as a side effect although they are not sleeping pills. Some herbal and traditional medicines are used as sleeping pills, although their safety and effectiveness may not be scientifically proven.

Prescription sleeping pills

Benzodiazepines are the most common type of prescription sleeping pills, for example, temazepam. They are generally recommended for short-term use (less than 4 weeks). Other prescription sleeping pills include zopiclone and zolpidem.

These medicines work by increasing the strength of your brain’s sleep signals that tell your body that it is time to calm down and fall asleep.

Suvorexant (Belsomra) works by helping you to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer. This can be useful for people who wake up during the night and can’t fall back to sleep. Suvorexant (Belsomra) can generally be used for longer periods of time.

Over the counter sleeping pills

Melatonin is a hormone that helps control sleep and waking pattern. Melatonin may improve sleep quality and morning alertness, and can be dispensed by a pharmacist for people over 55 years of age with poor sleep. Some antihistamines (for example, Restavit or doxylamine), can make you drowsy and can be used to help relieve insomnia. Use these only in the short term (for a few days at a time) to re-establish regular sleep patterns.

Herbal and traditional medicines

Herbal and traditional medicines are sometimes used to treat insomnia. Not all of these medicines have been proven to help you fall asleep. The most frequently studied remedies include:

  • chamomile
  • passionflower
  • St John’s Wort
  • valerian and hops combination

Remember that not all of these medicines are safe for everyone to take. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you decide if these medicines are likely to help you sleep, and if they could be right for you, based on any illnesses that you have, or medicines that you take.

Do some medicines have a side effect of sleepiness?

Some medicines not specifically designed as sleeping pills can also make you drowsy. They include some antihistamines that are available over-the-counter. Although you may feel sleepy after taking these antihistamines, this is an unwanted side-effect and they are not intended to be used as sleeping tablets. Not all antihistamines make you feel drowsy.

Some medicines prescribed for mental health conditions can cause sleepiness as a side effect. If you take medicines for your mental health (for example, antidepressants or antipsychotic medicines), ask your doctor or pharmacist if they are likely to make you drowsy.

What are the risks of taking sleeping pills?

One main risk of sleeping pills is that you become dependent on them. This means they become less effective over time, you can't sleep well without them. You may also begin to feel unwell or experience worse insomnia when you try to stop.

Sleeping pills can also make you unsteady, dizzy and forgetful. They can make it hard for you to concentrate. You might feel groggy or tired next day. These side effects may increase your risk of having accidents and falls, especially if you are older.

Some types of sleeping pills can cause you to do things while you are asleep. This could be eating, talking or even driving. This is more likely if you are taking more than one type of sleeping pill or drink alcohol.

How do I use sleeping pills safely?

Always speak to a doctor or pharmacist if you are having trouble sleeping.

If your doctor has prescribed sleeping pills, here are some tips on using them safely:

  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you can take your sleeping pills with your other prescription and non-prescription (including herbal and traditional) medicines.
  • Take the pills as prescribed.
  • Ask your doctor how long you need to take them and how to stop safely.
  • Don’t mix sleeping pills with alcohol.
  • Don’t take someone else’s sleeping pills or share yours with anybody.

How can I sleep well without taking medicines?

There are plenty of ways to improve your sleep without medicines. Cognitive therapy is a type of talk therapy that can help people who feel worried about their sleep. Sleep restriction is a behavioural treatment approach can help people who find it hard to stay asleep for the whole night. Your doctor can advise you about non-medicine treatments for your insomnia.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Sleeping Tablets

What Are Sleeping Tablets? Sleeping tablets work on pathways in the brain which are important in regulating whether someone is awake or asleep. Most sleeping tablets make the ‘sleep pathways’ more active.  One of the newer medications works by making the ‘wake pathways’ less active. Sleeping tablets ge

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleeping pills and older people: the risks - NPS MedicineWise

Difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, or getting sleep that is not refreshing tends to occur more as people age. Find out more.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Herbal Remedies and sleep

Why try herbs to help your sleep? About 40% of people use alternative or complementary medicines at least occasionally. This can be for many reasons, including problems with sleep. Some people who are concerned about using sleeping pills will turn to herbal remedies to help them sleep (see our page on Sleeping Tablet

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Benzodiazepines - Beyond Blue

Benzodiazepines, commonly known as minor tranquillisers and sleeping pills, are prescribed mainly for problems relating to anxiety and sleep.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Sleep medicines: children & teens | Raising Children Network

Sleep medicines aren’t usually the solution to sleep problems in children and teens. If your child has a sleep problem, there are other ways to manage it.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Benzodiazepines: what are the effects? - MyDr.com.au

How benzodiazepines affect a person depends on many things, but there is no safe level of benzodiazepine use.

Read more on myDr website

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have repeated episodes of partial or complete obstruction of the throat (also known as the "pharynx" or "upper airway") during sleep.

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Good Sleep Habits

Good sleep habits are often referred to as good sleep hygeine. There are many things that can be done to improve sleep. Here, we will give you some guidelines for what you should and should not do for a good night's sleep.

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleep hygiene - Better Health Channel

You can retrain your body and mind so that you sleep well and wake feeling rested.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Ten Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

Try to go to bed at around the same time every evening and get up at around the same time every morning. Improved sleep will not happen as soon as changes are made.

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.