Prescription sleep medications are often habit-forming and can even perpetuate sleep problems. In most cases, they should only be used for short periods of time. Dr. Phillips, can you tell us how prescription sleep medications work?
I sure can, Dr. Jerman. Some providers may prescribe anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, to treat insomnia or other sleep problems. But more commonly, providers will prescribe a medication that has a sedative effect. These are sometimes called hypnotics.
Hypnotic medications affect chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with sleep problems. Examples of hypnotics include zolpidem, eszopiclone, zaleplon, and ramelteon.
There are also over-the-counter medications and supplements that can aid with sleep. An example is melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone released in the body to help maintain the circadian rhythm. Melatonin naturally increases in response to darkness. Nighttime melatonin levels are typically around 10 times higher than daytime levels. Taking melatonin supplements may help the body more easily recognize when it's time to sleep.