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Is It Possible To Overdose On Sleep Aids

Sleep Aids: The Breakdown

Dr. Kara Wada Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Kara Wada on July 23, 2021

When it comes to sleeping pills and other sleep aids, these can be a highly effective way of improving your sleep quality as well as combatting any sleep disturbances you may be experiencing.

That said, there is a difference between prescription sleeping pills and over the counter sleep aids, and knowing the difference can help you make a more informed decision regarding which option may be the best, and safest, choice for you.

Risks Associated With Conventional Sleep Aids

Sleeping pills and sleep aids have a few key differences that are important to note. Sleeping pills require a prescription, and all prescription sleeping pills have some potential side effects as well as a risk of overdose if too many pills are taken.

  • Common side effects of prescription sleeping pills, even if you take the recommended dose, include headaches, drowsiness the next day, muscle aches, constipation, dry mouth, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, and rebound insomnia.
  • Sleeping pills also have other associated risks, including:
  • Drug tolerance, which means your body may build up a tolerance to the drug over time, thus making it less effective
  • Drug dependence, which happens when you become dependent on sleeping pills such that you are no longer able to sleep at all without them. Prescription sleeping pills can be addictive.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, which may happen if you suddenly stop taking the medication
  • Drug interactions, which can make side effects worse and can sometimes be dangerous

Alternatively, there are some over the counter sleeping aids as well as herbal remedies available that may ease your sleeping problems with fewer risks to your health and safety.

That said, over the counter sleeping pills still do pose certain risks, and they also have some potential side effects such as dizziness and forgetfulness, clumsiness, constipation, blurred vision, nausea, or dry mouth and throat.

Prescription Sleeping Pills: What You Need To Know

While sleeping pills can be a very effective way of helping with sleeping disorders, they also have some risks associated with them ranging from side effects to drug interactions and a risk of overdose.

There are a variety of prescription sleeping pills available, which means it may be difficult to find the one that works best for you and causes the least amount of adverse effects. Certain sleeping pills also may not be recommended for use by people with certain health conditions, so it is important to consult your doctor.

Prescription Sleeping Pills Overdose Risk

One major risk associated with prescription sleeping pills is the risk of overdosing. If the recommended dose of a certain medication proves not to be effective for you, it may be tempting to double up on your doses in order to find relief, but this can be a dangerous thing to do.

It is possible to unintentionally overdose on prescription sleeping pills, and the risk increases for those who are using other substances at the same time, such as alcohol or other prescription drugs. It is particularly dangerous to mix prescription sleeping pills with other drugs that have a sedative effect.

If you suspect that you or someone you love have overdosed on prescription sleeping pills, you should seek medical attention immediately by calling 911.

Herbal Remedies and Non-Prescription Sleep Aids

Aside from prescription sleeping pills, non-prescription options are also available that you can purchase over the counter, and there are also some herbal remedies and supplements geared towards improving your sleep as well.

When it comes to non-prescription medications that work as sleep aids, there are still some associated risks, meaning that you may still want to proceed with caution. Some OTC sleeping medications combine medicines in order to be effective.

For example, certain options may combine antihistamines and pain relievers. Because of this, it may be easy to accidentally end up experiencing an adverse reaction caused by taking too much of a pain reliever if you are using a pain reliever on its own and do not realize that your sleeping aid contains more of the same active ingredients.
Like prescription sleeping pills, these medications, too, put you at risk of building up a tolerance to their active ingredients such that the medicine becomes less effective for you over time.

Alternatively, certain dietary supplements and herbal remedies also exist that may help you find relief from your sleeping problems.

Three natural ingredients that have been recognized for their potential benefits when it comes to relieving sleeping problems are:

  • Valerian root, which is the root of a tall, flowering plant. This herbal remedy is thought to help relieve anxiety and stress as well as help you fall asleep.
  • Chamomile, which is a flower that is considered to be a mild and safe way to induce drowsiness and thus help improve sleep.
  • Melatonin, which is a naturally-occurring hormone that helps regulate your sleep. Melatonin supplements can help you shift the timing of your sleep, but it may make you sleepy the next day if you take too much.

When it comes to herbal remedies like valerian root and chamomile, the risk of overdose is much smaller, as is the overall risk of putting your health in harm’s way. Some supplements may cause minor side effects in some people, but they are largely considered safe and effective remedies without all of the risks associated with traditional methods of improving sleep.

That said, you cannot necessarily overdose on herbs like valerian or chamomile, but it is still possible to take too much of a supplement and experience certain adverse effects, but these generally are not life-threatening.

That said, it is always a good idea to consult your doctor before you start using any kind of remedy, medicine, vitamin, or supplement, especially if it is a product you have not tried before. Because your doctor is familiar with your medical history, they will be able to advise you regarding the safety of certain products in your individual situation. Plus, your doctor can steer you in the right direction if certain products do not prove effective for your symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Whether or not there is a risk of overdose when it comes to sleep aids largely depends on the type of sleep aid in question. Prescription sleeping pills are one means of treating sleeping problems, but these medications also have plenty of risks associated with them. Prescription sleeping pills can lead to drug tolerance, dangerous drug interactions, and accidental overdose which can happen if the recommended dose is ineffective and a person takes another dose in hopes of finding relief from symptoms.

On the other hand, there are also some non-prescription sleeping pills available, and these are available over the counter. These, too, have some associated risks, mostly because some of these medications actually combine different medicines, such as antihistamines and pain relievers. This can make it easy to accidentally take too much of an active ingredient if you are using other medications alongside your sleeping medicine.

Alternatively, herbal remedies and dietary supplements may be a safe, yet still effective way to find relief from your sleep disturbances without having to worry about all of the risks associated with more conventional methods. Valerian root and chamomile flower are two examples of herbal remedies that are thought to help improve sleep, and it is rare for these remedies to lead to overdose or adverse effects.



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