The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has advised those who experience insomnia to see a medicine specialist or primary care physician for proper diagnosis, and to discuss treatment options before undertaking treatment. Often, sleep medications are used for the short-term treatment of insomnia and, occasionally, for more chronic insomnia. Medications, currently available by prescription are known to improve sleep by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, increasing sleep duration and/or reducing the number of awakenings during sleep.
Though modern treatments are considered safe, people should also be aware of the side effects of medications that may occur in a minority of patients. These side effects can include sleepwalking; sleep eating and other complex sleep behaviours as well as difficulty with memory.
Behavioural therapies and medications have proved to be effective therapies for insomnia. When used properly and judiciously by a patient, sleep medications are effective and safe treatments for insomnia, under the supervision of a sleep medicine or primary care physician.
AASM offers the following recommendations for individuals using sleep medications:
Carefully read the package insert and all information provided by your physician and pharmacist for your sleep medication. It will guide you in the safe use of the medication.
Read the package insert and all information to learn the side effects of the medication.
Strictly adhere to the indicated use of your sleep medication. Do not take it for purposes other than to sleep.
Follow the prescription carefully and do not take more than the dosage your doctor prescribes.
Allow time for a full night of sleep when using sleep medication to avoid morning or daytime drowsiness.
Avoid combining sleep medication with alcohol.
Ask your doctor any questions you have about the intended use, dosage and side effects. Communication with your physician will help ensure safe use of the medication.
Inform your doctor right away of any problems you have while taking a sleep medication.
Make your doctor aware of any other medications, prescriptions or over-the-counter, that you use. Mixing medications may cause adverse effects.
Make your doctor aware of other medical conditions, including other sleep disorders, you may have. Sleep medications can be dangerous when treating sleep disruption that may arise from another disorder.
Besides guidelines for the patients, AASM offers the following recommendations for primary care physicians who see patients with insomnia:
Read the practice guidelines for chronic insomnia created by AASM
Become intimately familiar with sleep medications you prescribe, including the indications for use and side effects.
Educate your patients about the sleep medicine you are prescribing to them, including the indications for use, dosage and side effects. Ensure your patients fully understand the intended use and potential effects.