How Do Sleeping Pills Work?

Author: Eric Cho
Sleeping pills are sedatives that depress the central nervous system of the human body. This results in tranquility, relaxation, less anxiety, sleepiness, slowed breathing, slurred speaking, staggering gait, poor judgment and slow, uncertain reflexes. They are also called downers, tranquillizers, depressants, anxiolytics, soporifics or sedative hypnotics.

Most sleeping pills are usually prescribed for patients with anxiety problems. However, those described as sedatives are also used to help people sleep. Long term use of sleeping pills is discouraged as they are addictive and could be dangerous to the health of the patient.

The human body has two basic drives which is the waking drive and the sleeping drive. During the day, the waking drive is strong and the brain remains active. As the day wears on, the waking drive becomes weaker and the sleeping drive strengthens. As evening approaches, the sleeping drive builds up and by the time night approaches, the body is ready to go to sleep. What a sleeping pill does is that it strengthens the sleeping drive in the human body. A person with insomnia has imbalanced sleeping and waking drives.

In normal people, the onset of darkness induces the pineal gland in the brain to secrete a hormone called melatonin which prompts the body to go into the sleep drive. The melatonin makes the body less alert, it slows down the body mechanisms and the person begins to feel the need to sleep. The action of sleeping pills is similar. It sends signals to the brain that approximate to the symptoms produced by the hormone melatonin. The central nervous system is dampened and its ability to function is diminished. This makes the person sleepy. Sleeping pills work less effectively when the patient has had long term insomnia or has had trouble staying asleep for a long time.

Most sleeping pills are Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are minor tranquilizers that belong to a class of drugs that are used to induce sleep. There are several drugs such as Nitrazepam, Loprazolam and Flurazepam that are categorized under Benzodiazepines. However, benzodiazepines are also used to tackle problems relating to anxiety, epileptic seizure and amnesia and it is important to choose the right benzodiazepine as a sleeping pill. Some of the trade names of benzodiazepines drugs are Mogadon, Remnos and Somnite. The natural herb Mandrake is also a common ingredient in these drugs. Mandrake is traditionally known as a drug that helps people sleep.

However, there are possibilities of side effects when taking sleeping pills. Most benzodiazepines have the same side effects- headaches, drowsiness, light-headedness, unsteadiness, confusion, forgetfulness, dependence, withdrawal, increase in aggression and muscle weakness. There are many drugs that one might be consuming that may interfere with the effectiveness of sleeping pills. These drugs themselves may be sleep inducing and taking sleeping pills in addition to such drugs will result in the effect of these pills lasting longer. People with respiratory problem, muscle problems, a history of drug or alcohol abuse or personality disorder, who are consuming sleeping pills, are advised to use it with caution and to consult their physician before taking any sleeping pill.

Moreover, some sleeping pills are known to cause amnesia. Patients have been known to perform several physical activities-even going on a binge on food-while completely asleep under the effects of the sleeping pill. Patients must, therefore, ensure that the instructions are followed meticulously and go to bed immediately after taking the sleeping pill.