None of them have been studied as a treatment for insomnia, so no one has any idea how effective they are for that purpose. And since antidepressants can already be prescribed for other conditions, he adds, the companies that manufacture them aren’t likely to bankroll studies to find out.
But there’s an arguably even more popular sleep medication: over-the-counter antihistamines. Nearly 25 percent of those of us with insomnia use old drugs like Benadryl to make ourselves drowsy. “They change the level of histamine in the brain, which can make people sleepy,” says Dr. Epstein. “There’s no data on their effectiveness, however, and they probably have a higher side-effect profile than benzodiazepines. Men with prostate problems shouldn’t take them.”
According to Dr. Epstein, an over-the-counter antihistamine is potentially more dangerous than a benzodiazepene. And they only work for about four nights in a row,” he says.
Clearly, sleep medications should be taken only after a thoughtful consultation with your physician. But you may also want to discuss a new study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki. Researchers there followed 21,268 twins for 22 years. They found that “frequent” use of sleep medications increased the risk of death in women by 39 percent. Further research is necessary to find out why.
A comparison of old and new sleep medications reveals that newer drugs, like zolpidem, eszopiclone, ramelteon, and zaleplon, reduce the time it takes to get to sleep between 12 and 20 minutes. Older drugs, like Dalmane, Halcion and Restoril, reduce the time it takes from between 11 and 23 minutes.
Those who took the new sleep medications got between 8 and 25 minutes more sleep each night. Those who took the older drugs got between 12 and 40 minutes more sleep.
Which is the best drug for you? Only you and your doctor know for sure.