Perhaps one of the greatest hazards of sleeping pills is the frequency of use. Individuals with a prescription or those using antihistamines from a corner store will often assume it is safe to use these substances night after night. However, the development of tolerance and dependence can lead to unintended results.
Sleep is a necessary and much-beloved biological function, and people are willing to go to incredible lengths to make sure they get the rest they need. This includes misusing medications meant to help this process. Due to the likelihood of abuse, it is vital to understand the dangers that come with sleeping pills, including the risk of overdose.
Some individuals may intentionally use sleep-aid medications to commit suicide. If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
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Why Do People Use Sleeping Pills?
Between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from sleeplessness, and these tired nights make 4% of the country look to medication for the chance at a good night’s sleep. Each year, millions of individuals use hypnotic drugs to achieve longer, better sleep cycles every night. These sleeping pills and aids range from high-concentrated prescriptions to over-the-counter remedies.
Physicians prescribe a wide variety of drugs to combat insomnia. Some of the more common brands include Ambien, Lunesta, and Rozerem. In addition, certain benzodiazepine sedatives and antidepressants have been known to provide similar treatment, but these drugs come with the added worry of potential dependence.
What Happens If You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?
Overdosing on sleeping pills leads to a number of outcomes, depending on the type of medication and dose. Sleeping pills do not often cause a lethal overdose when taken alone. However, this is not to say it’s impossible — certain sleep medications can lead to death as a consequence of overdose.
In the past, some individuals would use sleep medications to harm themselves. The idea of slowly drifting to sleep and not waking up was seen as the preferred means of ending one’s life. As time went on, however, researchers began to make sleeping aids safer to use, and the likelihood of fatal overdoses decreased.
Dangerous Side Effects & Overdose Symptoms
The dangerous side effects of abusing sleeping pills can begin long before an overdose occurs. Sleep-induced injuries are one such consequence. Some users have driven and wrecked their vehicles due to impaired judgment and coordination caused by sleep medications. Crimes, as well as self-harm, have also been reported. Individuals simply are unaware of their actions.
Several physical signs may be present if a sleeping pill overdose occurs, including:
- Excessive lethargy: When used as intended, sleeping pills do just that: put people to sleep. Sleeping pill users likely use the medication often, so they should be able to differentiate their typical sleepiness from something else entirely.
- Unanticipated behaviors or actions: Tiredness leads to clumsiness, and clumsiness leads to mistakes. People act differently when lethargic, but pay close attention to excessive, drunk-like behavior.
- Abdominal pain: Anything from appetite loss to constipation can occur. This is usually the most infrequent symptom of sleeping pill overdoses.
- Breathing irregularities: The overdose victim may exhibit slow or dysfunctional breathing. This should be monitored the closest of all. Administer life-saving CPR if the victim appears to be gasping for air, or if breathing ceases and consciousness is lost.
More often than not, an overdose victim is unable — or in the case of intentional overdose, unwilling — to contact the proper authorities. Sleeping pills have overwhelming sedative effects; a victim may very well fall asleep before taking precautionary measures. It may require an onlooker to get the necessary help.
Which Sleeping Pill Overdose Can Cause Death?
As mentioned above, modern sleeping agents are safer than their predecessors. Death from outright sleeping pill use is less likely than in the past, but it’s still possible. Still, there are certainly dangerous ranges of misuse at which life-threatening consequences are a higher possibility.
Ambien, for example, is typically taken at a 10 mg dose. At 600 mg, a user is entering overdose limitations, and serious damage is likely. Death is reported at doses higher than 2,000 mg, but a lethal dose may still occur at lower amounts.
An overdose on Lunesta can happen at approximately 90 times an intended dose. This would require upwards of 270 mg of the drug. Fatal overdoses typically only occur when mixed with depressants like benzodiazepines or alcohol.
Similarly, it generally takes around 200 mg of Sonata to overdose. Users have been known to survive this amount if alcohol wasn’t involved.
Sleeping Pill Overdose Treatment
Benzodiazepine sleep aids are often treated with a specific counteractive procedure. If an individual is not likely to develop seizure symptoms, a physician may choose to administer a drug known as flumazenil. It reverses sedation caused by benzos — and some other nonbenzodiazepine pills, such as Ambien — to bring a victim back to their normal state.
In cases where a large sum of pills is swallowed, these pills may be removed by a stomach pump. However, this method has been used less frequently in recent years. After treatment, hospital staff will closely monitor the overdose victim’s progress and recovery over the next few hours or days.
If you or a loved one is struggling with sleeping pill misuse or dependence, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans that can work well for your needs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010.” August 2013. Accessed June 23, 2020.
Food and Drug Administration. “FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA warns of next-day impairment with sleep aid Lunesta (eszopiclone) and lowers recommended dose.” May 15, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.