Why would sleep aids only work some of the time?

This question was asked in Ashland, Alabama on 04/18/2012.
I am taken medication for my sleep problems, but it seems like the medication is not working all the time. Why is that?

Doctors Answers (6)

Maryann Deak, MD
Answered on: 9/14/2012

Sleeping medications may be an effective treatment for insomnia. They should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time. Long-term use of medication may lead to the development of tolerance, meaning higher doses are required to get the same effect, or lack of effectiveness. Over-the-counter sleep medications all contain antihistamines as they're active sleep inducing ingredient and are only recommended for short-term use.

Terry M. Himes, DO
Answered on: 4/24/2012

We don't know your personal circumstances, but the body gets adapted to medications over time. Therefore, changing them becomes necessary for effect. Consider speaking with your physician about this.

Syed Nabi, M.D.
Answered on: 4/20/2012

There are a lot of reasons for that to happen. There could be an undiagnosed and untreated condition such as sleep apnea, limb movement disorder, etc. that is preventing sleep medicines from working. Also some people are fast metabolizers. Sometimes medicines interact with each other. It is best to discuss with your sleep doctor who will take a detailed sleep history and help you find the best treatment option.

Robert C. Jones, M.D.
Answered on: 4/20/2012

You could be building up resistance to the medication. It would be good for you to be evaluated by a sleep specialist.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 4/20/2012

It is necessary to know what you mean by "sleep aids". If this is medication, is it sold over the counter or is it a prescription which is specifically designed to promote sleep? If it is a true sleeping medication, not just a medication that makes you sleepy, there are several possible reasons why they don't work the same every night. One possible reason is that some medications are delayed getting into the system if the stomach is not empty. Another cause is that there may be other medications competing with absorption of the sleep medication. External stress may be difficult to overcome. The need for sleep may vary from night to night depending on what happened during the day. If the medication is generic, a different brand may vary in strength. Try to stick to the same generic brand and try to watch the time the medication is taken related to food intake and note external factors such as stress, weather conditions and other medications taken.

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 4/19/2012

Sleep aids, by which I presume you mean medications of the sedative hypnotic class, have been used or more appropriately misused for sometime now. Insomnia is influenced and regulated by a number of biologic, physiologic and psychological processes, and one drug that manipulates a single neurotransmitter system is not sufficient to combat this problem. In any case, the longer you take these types of medications, the more likely you will develop a tolerance to them. By this, I mean that the drug will be less effective therapeutically over time due to the body's adaptation to the drugs' effects. More drugs then would be required to achieve the same therapeutic effect over time.