When should you take sleeping tablets?

Should you consider taking sleeping tablets for insomnia, and are they addictive?

06 January 2015
by Wendy Maritz

Why we can’t sleep

Most of us have been plagued by sleepless nights or disturbed sleep at some point in our lives. Bouts of insomnia may last from a few days to several weeks, while chronic cases can last for years. The causes include emotional and physical stresses, changes in family dynamics and home life, the side effects of certain medications, and psychological conditions, such as depression.

Effects of sleep loss

Whatever the causes, the results are almost always disruptive and unpleasant: fatigue, loss of concentration, increased mood swings and a general inability to function properly. “People may also become increasingly anxious about the inability to sleep, which makes matters worse,” says Michelle Baker, clinical psychologist and sleep specialist at The Durban Sleep Centre.

Can sleeping tablets help?

If you’re suffering from recurring bouts of insomnia, it’s a good idea to make an appointment to see your healthcare professional. While approaches to treating short-and long-term insomnia vary, depending on the causes and the perpetuating factors, sleeping tablets may be prescribed to assist in the short term to help you get much-needed rest.

How do they work?

Most sleeping tablets are sedative hypnotics that induce sleep (shorten the time before you fall asleep), and help maintain sleep. “The theory around sleeping tablets is that they rewire the brain for sleep,” explains Baker. “They are generally prescribed for two weeks at a time, after which the patient is weaned off them.” The newer classes of drugs are well designed, she adds, which makes this process easier. 

Do they have side effects and are they addictive?

As with any medication, sleeping tablets have potential side effects, including headache, changes in appetite, unusual dreams, constipation or diarrhoea. In rare cases, they may result in hallucinations or behavioural disorders. It’s important to be aware of these as well as the potential they have to become habit forming. Baker warns that patients may become "emotionally dependent on the tablets, equating them with sleep. The result is that they no longer trust themselves to fall asleep without taking the tablets.”

Consult with your Clicks pharmacist for guidance if you are looking for an over-the-counter sleeping tablet. Prescription sleeping tablets are also available at Clicks pharmacies.

For more information on sleep health, visit The Sleep Centre Network.

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