Medications taken to fall asleep and stay asleep. Most sleep medications are sedatives; they reduce neuron communication in the brain, slowing physical and cognitive functions. Often antidepressant sedatives such as trazadone (Desyrel) are utilized to help combat both insomnia and early morning awakening, sometimes even if other symptoms of depression are not evident. Sleep medications such as the mid- to long-acting benzo-diazepines flurazapam (Dalmane), lorazepam (Ati-van), diazepam (Valium), and temazepam (Restoril) are often used for short-term or occasional relief of insomnia and have less addiction potential than short-acting benzodiazepines such as triazolam (Halcion). Zolpidem (Ambien) is also a less addictive alternative for insomnia, although it can be habit forming and is usually used only for short term or occasionally. Doctors sometimes recommend the over-the-counter antihistamine medication diphen-hydramine (Benadryl) as a sleep aid; its antihistamine qualities inherently cause drowsiness, and it has a mild anticholinergic effect that helps to reduce neuromuscular symptoms such as tremors. These drugs also act as muscle relaxants, which can help to relieve sleep disturbances such as restless leg syndrome (RLS) and nocturnal myoclonus.
Sleep medications do alter balance, perception, and muscle control, creating an increased risk for falls if the person has to get up at night. A person who is taking sleep medications should have someone accompany him or her if getting up at night becomes necessary. Sleep medications may also interact with other medications the person is using, particularly muscle relaxants, as many sleep medications belong to this classification of drugs, as well as ANTIDEPRESSANT MEDICATIONS and PAIN RELIEF MEDICATIONS.