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Newer sleeping tablets (zopiclone, zolpidem, and zaleplon)

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Taking one of the new sleeping tablets can help you get to sleep more easily. You may also sleep a bit longer and wake less at night.

These medicines work just as well as some older ones called benzodiazepines, which are also used to treat insomnia (poor-quality sleep). [21] [22] [23] [24]

You might also hear these medicines called 'Z drugs' because their names start with Z.

If your insomnia is severe, your doctor might prescribe one of these newer sleeping tablets:

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which decides which drugs can be prescribed on the NHS in England and Wales, has given doctors guidance about using these newer types of sleeping tablets. The NICE guidance says that: [25]

  • Doctors should think about using a non-medicine treatment before prescribing a sleeping tablet. For example, your doctor may advise you about good sleeping habits or attending a relaxation class (To learn more about good sleeping habits, see How to get a good night's sleep)

  • If your doctor thinks you need a sleeping tablet, they will probably prescribe a type of drug called a benzodiazepine. This is because zolpidem, zopiclone, and zaleplon are more expensive and there's no firm evidence that they work better

  • Your doctor should prescribe a Z drug only if the benzodiazepine has caused side effects

  • Doctors should only prescribe sleeping tablets for a short time

  • If your insomnia hasn't got better with one of these drugs, your doctor shouldn't prescribe another one.

Several studies (randomised controlled trials) have shown that people fell asleep more quickly when they took one of the newer sleeping tablets. [21] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31]

  • One study found that zolpidem helped people get to sleep more quickly. [27]

  • People also slept for 30 or 40 minutes longer each night.

Becoming dependent on newer sleeping pills

You shouldn't take one of the newer sleeping tablets for more than four weeks, because you could become dependent on them. This means you get unpleasant effects when you stop taking the medicine. For example, you may feel anxious and have panic attacks if you don't take your medicine every night. You may also find it hard to sleep without the medicine.

Side effects from taking newer sleeping pills

In the studies we found, the people taking these drugs had some side effects: [27] [28]

  • Headaches

  • Pain

  • Drowsiness

  • A blocked nose

  • Dizziness.

But many of these side effects also happened in people who took a dummy treatment (a placebo). So we don't know if the side effects were caused by the drug.

You get more side effects and more serious ones if you take higher doses of these medicines. In one study, almost one-third of people who took 30 milligrams of zolpidem were: [29]

  • Agitated or had a fall during the night

  • Incontinent at night

  • Confused when they woke up.

Rebound insomnia from newer sleeping pills
Last Updated: January 29, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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