Insomnia: Conventional and Prescription Medications

Conventional medicines can be prescribed by doctors to treat the sleeplessness associated with insomnia, although they may not address underlying causes.  These medicines may cause depletion of certain nutrients.  Following is a list of common conventional medicines that may be used for insomnia:

  • Antihistamines – Brand name Benadryl®, Genahist, Sominex, Uni-Hist. Antihistamines are used to treat allergies, and they have become a popular ingredient in over-the-counter sleep aids. Decapryn®, Nighttime Sleep Aid®, Sleep Aid®, and Unisom® all contain doxylamine, an antihistamine.  Side effects include next-day drowsiness, dizziness, drug interactions, blurred vision, and dry mouth. Additionally, some patients who try antihistamines for sleep experience the exact opposite effects of anxiety, sleeplessness, and agitation.  Antihistamines are not known to deplete any nutrients.
  • Over-the-counter medications to relieve motion sickness – Brand name Dramamine®.  This medication is a combination of Diphenydramine and Chlorotheophylline and is most commonly used for treating motion sickness, though it has become a popular over-the-counter sleep aid. It is not known to deplete any nutrients.
  • Pain relievers with sleep aids – Brand names Nyquil®, Tylenol PM®.  These pain and fever reducers add antihistamines to their mix to help minimize discomfort and facilitate sleep during illness. They are not intended for long-term use.  Some patients may experience the exact opposite effects of anxiety, sleeplessness, and agitation.  Additionally, the FDA has warned against heavy use of over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and ketoprofen due to their implication in the increased risk of heart disease and stroke.Acetaminophen depletes glutathione.  Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and ketoprofen deplete folic acid.
  • Prescription benzodiazepines – Brand names Ativan®, Halcion®, Klonopin®, Xanax®.  This class of prescription hypnotic drug is commonly used to treat insomnia. Side effects include drowsiness, memory loss, and moodiness.  Some people develop a tolerance for benzodiazepines, requiring them to take more to receive the same benefits.  They can cause rebound insomnia, which means that insomnia symptoms worsen when the medication is stopped.  For these reasons, they are not recommended for long-term use.  This class of drugs is not known to deplete any nutrients.
  • Prescription non-benzodiazepines – Brand names Ambien®, Lunesta®, Sonata®. This class of prescription hypnotic drug is also commonly used to treat insomnia. Side effects include agitation, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and nightmares. Non-benzodiazepines pose less of a risk of increased tolerance than benzodiazepines, and therefore, can be prescribed for longer-term use.  This class of drug is not known to deplete any nutrients.
  • Antidepressants – Brand names Desyrel®, Paxil®, Serzone®, Trazadone®. Prescription antidepressants are sometimes used to treat insomnia associated with depression or with awakening too early.  Antidepressants have fewer side effects than other drugs used to treat insomnia, and can be prescribed for long-term use. Antidepressants are not known to deplete any nutrients.

Note: Sleep aids can cause dangerous over sedation if combined with alcohol.

Additional Information about Insomnia

  1. Insomnia Overview
  2. Common symptoms of insomnia
  3. Common causes of insomnia
  4. Help me choose a natural and alternative treatment for insomnia
  5. Dietary and lifestyle recommendations that may help in the treatment of insomnia
  6. Additional reading for insomnia

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