Medications that help treat chronic insomnia include Ambien, anti-anxiety drugs, and OTC medications. These treatments are intended for short-term use and may have dangerous side effects.
Chronic insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by recurring difficulties falling or staying asleep. Treating chronic insomnia with medication is one way to re-establish healthy sleep patterns. But vitamins, supplements, and alternative treatments can also help.
Read on to learn more about medications for chronic insomnia, including how they’re used, their effectiveness, and side effects.
Over-the-counter medications used to treat insomnia include:
Products that contain antihistamines
Certain antihistamines used to treat allergies are sometimes used off-label to treat insomnia. This is because drowsiness is an expected side effect. Using a medication “Off-label” means using medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a condition other than the one they were approved to treat (in this case, allergies).
It’s important to talk with a doctor before taking antihistamines for insomnia. They’re often not recommended because tolerance to their sedative effects tends to develop quickly. They can also cause symptoms such as daytime drowsiness or agitation.
Learn more about antihistamines for sleep.
Melatonin is available in doses from 0.5–10 milligrams (mg). It’s generally considered safe but may cause some side effects, such as nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
Learn more about melatonin.
Prescription medications used to treat insomnia include the following.
Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications that promote relaxation and drowsiness. But they have a high risk of dependence and can cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them after long-term use. Doctors generally only recommend taking them for about 7–10 days.
Some types of benzodiazepines a doctor may prescribe include:
|Dose (mg)||0.25 before bed||1 at bedtime||10–20|
Benzodiazepine receptor agonist
Benzodiazepine receptor agonists tend to work faster than benzodiazepines and generally have a
|Brand names||• Ambien|
|Dose (mg)||5 for females and 5–10 for males, immediately before bed|
Orexin receptor antagonist
Orexin receptor antagonists block the effect of orexin, a neurotransmitter that stimulates wakefulness. These medications are usually not recommended for long-term use. Orexin receptor antagonists that are FDA approved in the United States include:
|Dose (mg)||10 within 30 min of bed||5 before bed|
Tasimelteon (Hetlioz) works by increasing the effect of melatonin on your brain. It’s FDA approved to treat sleep-wake disorders and Smith-Magenis syndrome. The recommended dose is 20 mg an hour before bed.
Doxepin (Silenor) works by blocking histamine and other receptors in your brain. For treating insomnia, the recommended dose is
Many natural supplement supplements are marketed for treating insomnia. The levels of evidence to support their use are mixed.
|Valerian root||an herb native to Asia and Europe||300–600 mg|
|Magnesium||an essential mineral||under 350 mg|
|Lavender oil||an extract from the lavender flower||aromatherapy|
|Passionflower||a flower grown around the world||taken as a tea|
|Glycine||an amino acid||around 3,000 mg|
|CBD oil||a nonpsychoactive extract from hemp||variable|
Learn more about natural treatments for insomnia.
Doctors often recommend CBT-I before trying medications for insomnia. During this type of therapy, you attend therapy sessions in where you may learn:
Learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
Some ways you may be able to treat insomnia at home include trying to:
- make sure your bedroom is cool and dark
- avoid looking at electronics before bed
- go to bed and wake up around the same time each day
- avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bed
- get regular physical activity
- avoid napping throughout the day
- minimize stress
Learn more about home remedies for insomnia.
Chronic insomnia can be very disruptive to your life. It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor if you have persistent symptoms that don’t respond to changing your sleep habits, such as:
- trouble falling asleep
- an inability to stay asleep
- waking up earlier than you want to
- not feeling refreshed after sleeping
- feeling excessively sleepy during the day
Read about tips for talking with a doctor about insomnia.
The first treatment doctors recommend for chronic insomnia is usually making improvements in your sleep habits. Doctors may recommend medications if these changes, and a type of therapy called “CBT-I,” don’t relieve your symptoms. Some sleep-promoting medications, such as benzodiazepines, can have serious side effects and aren’t intended for long-term use.