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Sleeping tablets

AKA: zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and many others.

  1. The basics
  2. Highs and lows
  3. Taking sleeping pills
  4. Interactions with other drugs
  5. Tips for safer use
  6. Legal status

The basics

There are many types of sleeping pill, of varying strengths. Here we’re talking about pharmaceutical medication being used as a sleep-aid after a big session, or for recreational use to chill out.

As the name suggests, they most commonly come as tablets/pills and in a variety of colours. But they can also come in liquid form for injecting.

How they’re used

Sleeping pills are used on the drugs scene to drown out the effects of uppers such as cocainemephedrone and crystal meth. These types of drugs can make it very difficult to fall asleep.

Sleeping pills are sometimes used to manage typical comedown symptoms such as anxiety, stress and paranoia.

Highs and lows of sleeping pills


Sleeping pills can make you feel sleepy and relaxed and they can lower your inhibitions. A small dose will make you feel sociable and good-humoured.

They can also make you appear drunk when taken in higher doses.

Before falling asleep, you’re likely to feel relaxed and chilled.


Short-term memory loss and extreme tiredness are the most obvious effects.

Your body might become uncoordinated and you may fall over or injure yourself by accident.

Depending on what other drugs you’ve taken, and how strong the sleeping pills are, you may not fall asleep at all. This can increase anxiety, stress and paranoia.

Sleeping pills can be extremely addictive – you can quickly build resistance to many types of pill, which means you may need higher doses to get a similar effect. After a while you may find it hard to fall asleep without them at all, possibly resulting in insomnia, which can last for weeks, months or sometimes be permanent.

There can be nasty side-effects including:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • headaches,
  • anxiety, panic attacks and depression
  • shallow breath and a slower heartbeat.

As with other types of prescribed medication, stopping this kind of drug suddenly can lead to tremors and other uncomfortable sensations throughout the body. If you overdose you can end up in a coma, go into a fit – or you may stop breathing which can result in death.

Taking sleeping pills

Sex and sleeping pills

As these types of drugs are so sedative, they’re not used for sex. You’ll probably feel too tired to bother and will find it hard to get an erection.

Some sleeping pills have been linked to date rape. They can make you unaware that you’re being sexually assaulted (if you would be in a deep sleep), and can make you unable to fight someone off. You may also have memory blackouts, so not know what has been done to you or by who.

Sleeping pills with other drugs


Mixing sleeping pills with downers such as alcohol, tranquillisers or heroin can be fatal.

HIV drugs

You should consult your doctor to find out about possible drug interactions. Some HIV meds can intensify the effects of certain sleeping pills, for example – ritonavir intensifies the sedative effects of the benzodiazepine triazolam (often prescribed for insomnia). Your doctor will be used to talking to people about their drug use and will be non-judgemental, so don’t be afraid to discuss this with them.

Tips for safer use

  • Stick to a curfew – if you have a set time for your partying to end, you’re less likely to miss a night’s sleep.
  • Try herbal/over the counter sleep aids before hitting the harder pharmaceutical stuff.
  • Try to regulate your sleep cycle after a heavy session – go to sleep at your normal bed time, rather than in the middle of the day.
  • Have a heavy, starchy meal – this may naturally make you feel more tired.

The law

Barbiturates are prescription-only drugs. When sold illegally, they are a Class B drug and if you’re caught with them you could serve a prison sentence of up to five years.

Selling and supplying them illegally carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

Sleeping aids prepared for injection are considered Class A drugs and the penalties for these are even higher.

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Published: 20/08/2018
Next review:20/08/2021