How to Treat Insomnia: 7 Common Medication Options

In last week's episode, House Call Doctor discussed the top 10 tips for treating insomnia without the use of medications.  Today, let's learn about the 7 most common over-the-counter and prescription medications doctors dispense to help you catch your Z's.

Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read
Episode #159


  • Trazodone:  Trazodone is another antidepressant that is no longer used as a first-line drug for depression due its main side effect…drowsiness.  Therefore, it is now more commonly prescribed as off-label use for insomnia, again because of its non-habit-forming nature.  Also, it may be more useful if there is also depression present alongside the insomnia.

  • Benzodiazepines:  This is an old group of drugs that was initially created as a tranquilizer for anxiety and has also been used for the treatment of insomnia.  Examples include lorazepam and tempazepam.  However, they are highly habit-forming and not recommended for long-term treatment or frequent use for insomnia.

  • Zolpidem, zaleplon, and eszopiclone:  A commonly prescribed drug that works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as the benzodiazepines and mimicking its effects, and therefore, can also be habit-forming.  There have been reports of hallucinations, sleep walking, and increased risk of pneumonia and other infections in those who routinely take this drug.  If using this class of drugs, you should opt for the lowest possible dose and with the least frequency as possible.

  • Insomnia Precautions

    There are 3 important points to keep in mind when being treated for insomnia:

    1. Elderly:  Many of these drugs are considered unsafe for people aged 65 and older, as they tend to cause over-sedation and place patients at an increased risk of falls, hip fractures, delirium, confusion, memory loss, and overdose.  This is because as we age our bodies tend to metabolize drugs less efficiently and the effects of the metabolites tend to linger much longer.  Make sure to review this list with your doctor to see what is the safest solution for you.

    2. What to avoid:  In addition, please never drink alcohol when taking medication for your insomnia. Also, don't combine insomnia medication with other sedating drugs and/or drive when using these medications, whether over-the-counter or not.

    3. Sleep apnea:  if you suffer from sleep apnea, be careful when selecting a sleep aid as it can worsen your condition.

    If you still are struggling with insomnia, one option is to ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep disorder clinic with a sleep specialist who can monitor your sleep cycle and suggest potential treatments. 

    Share your insomnia ideas and learn more quick and dirty tips with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!  You can even find me on Pinterest!


    Young woman suffering from insomnia image courtesy of Shutterstock.


    Medical Disclaimer
    Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

    About the Author

    Sanaz Majd, MD

    Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.