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Sleeping Pills Overdose: Signs & Symptoms

A sleeping pills overdose is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency that occurs when an individual consumes an excessive quantity of sleep-inducing medications. These pharmaceuticals, typically prescribed to manage insomnia and related sleep disorders, can have profoundly adverse effects when taken inappropriately. The addiction experts at our Christian drug rehab dive into the clinical aspects of overdose on sleeping pills, examining its causes, symptoms, diagnostic methods, and the critical interventions required for managing symptoms. By clarifying the medical intricacies surrounding this topic, we aim to provide both healthcare professionals and the general public with a comprehensive understanding of the dangers associated with the misuse or accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

What Are Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills are a general term for prescription and over-the-counter medications used to treat insomnia and promote sleep. While sleeping pills may refer to prescription medications like antidepressants (Trazodone), benzodiazepines (Restoril and Halcion), Silenor, and Lunesta, sleep aids are over-the-counter medications that can be purchased without a prescription. These include natural supplements like melatonin, Unisom, Benadryl, Aleve PM, and valerian.

There are various types of sleeping pills, each of which works differently. While some sleep aids simply promote drowsiness by elevating GABA levels in the brain (like Benzos), others might shut down areas of the brain that are linked to alertness. Sleep pills are usually prescribed for short-term use to prevent dependence, and over-the-counter sleep aids, while usually non-habit forming, should not be taken longer than recommended.

What Are the Most Commonly Prescribed Sleeping Pills?

The most commonly prescribed sleeping pills fall into several categories, and each category includes different medications. The type of sleeping pill that’s prescribed to an individual may depend on their specific needs, medical history, and potential side effects.

Here are some of the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills:

  • Benzodiazepines: These drugs are central nervous system depressants and include medications like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and temazepam (Restoril).
  • Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics (Z-drugs): These drugs, such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata), have similar effects to benzodiazepines but are considered less habit-forming.
  • Melatonin receptor agonists: Medications like ramelteon (Rozerem) and tasimelteon (Hetlioz) work by targeting melatonin receptors to regulate sleep-wake cycles, which is why they’re commonly used to treat circadian rhythm disorders.
  • Suvorexant (Belsomra): This medication works by blocking orexin receptors in the brain, which helps regulate wakefulness and sleep and treat insomnia.
  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressant medications, particularly trazodone and amitriptyline, are sometimes prescribed off-label to treat insomnia, especially when depression is involved.
  • Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (found in various OTC sleep aids), are occasionally used for short-term insomnia relief.

The choice of sleeping medication should be made by a healthcare professional based on an individual's specific circumstances. Additionally, most sleeping pills are intended for short-term use, and long-term reliance on these medications should be carefully monitored and managed by a healthcare provider.

Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

Yes, you can overdose on sleeping pills, including prescription sedatives and hypnotics like Benzos and antidepressants, to over-the-counter sleep aids like Benadryl. However, when it comes to prescription drugs like benzos and antidepressants, there’s an added concern of dependence and addiction.

A sleeping pill overdose is usually the result of taking higher doses of a medication than prescribed or mixing it with other substances, like alcohol. Overdose can vary in symptoms, intensity, and duration depending on the type of drug that was taken. While an OD on sleeping pills isn’t usually fatal when these drugs are taken on their own, many people who abuse prescription sleeping pills mix them with other substances to achieve stronger effects.

Additionally, the risk of death from overdose depends on the dose of the drug taken. Everyone reacts differently to medications, so there’s no way to confirm if a dose may be non-lethal to one person and fatal to another.

There’s also the question of polydrug use. Many sleeping pill overdoses occur when antidepressants or benzos are combined with alcohol, which is common among users who take these drugs for recreational purposes. Because these particular medications have a potential for dependence, increased tolerance is another common enforcer of dangerous drug-taking behavior, such as increasing your doses without the consent of a doctor.

What Happens if You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

The dangerous side effects of sleeping pills abuse can begin long before an overdose occurs. Sleep-induced injuries are common among people who abuse sleep medications, while other users may crash their cars while driving under the influence of their medications. Crimes, as well as self-harm and suicide attempts, have also been reported in relation to sleeping pill abuse.

Common sleeping pill overdose symptoms include:

  • Excessive lethargy
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Drunk-like behavior
  • Impaired judgment, coordination, and movement
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Breathing irregularities

When combined with alcohol, a sleeping pill overdose may also cause memory problems, difficulty breathing, and low blood pressure.

How Many Sleeping Pills Does It Take to Overdose?

The lethal dosage of sleeping pills depends on the type of medication you’re taking. Although death from outright sleeping pill abuse is less likely with today’s medications than those used in the past, there are still ranges of misuse at which life-threatening consequences can occur.

If you’re taking antidepressants like Ambien, for instance, a person who’s used to taking 10 mg may be at risk of overdosing if they take 600 mg. Death has been reported at doses higher than 2,000 mg, but the lethal dose may be smaller.

An overdose on Lunesta occurs when a dose that’s approximately 90 times larger than the intended dose is taken. This would require about 270 mg of Lunesta. Sonata overdose may occur at around 200 mg. However, the risk of a sleeping pill overdose significantly increases when alcohol is involved.

Alcohol is another depressant that can combine with sleeping pill effects and strongly depress the central nervous system to the point where functions like breathing and heart rate are impaired. In severe cases, this is fatal.

Can You Die From Taking Too Many Sleeping Pills?

As we mentioned, yes, you can die from taking too many sleeping pills, although the risk of death is higher when alcohol is involved. However, the rate of sleeping pills overdose deaths is low compared with the death rates of other drug overdoses, such as opioid overdoses. With that said, it’s important you only take medication you’re given as prescribed.

Avoid mixing alcohol with any medications you’re taking, especially benzos or antidepressants, unless you get an okay from your doctor. If you have a history of alcohol abuse, be sure to mention this to your doctor, as well, so they can better monitor your progress and ensure you’re taking the medication safely.

Sleeping Pills Overdose: What to Do

If you notice that someone is overdosing on sleeping pills, call 9-1-1 immediately. As you wait for emergency help to show up, keep the individual comfortable and avoid making them move around too much. Try to keep them awake, as well.

People who overdose on sedatives like sleeping pills will be admitted to the hospital so they can be monitored closely. Intensive care is usually required, during which the person may have their stomach pumped, receive activated charcoal to absorb the drug, be put on a respirator to improve their breathing, and more.

Help for Sedative Abuse

Many people abuse sedatives for their euphoric and relaxing side effects. Unfortunately, drugs like benzos (while available through prescription) have a high potential for addiction and can be unsafe when misused. If you or a loved one is struggling with sleeping pill misuse dependence, Banyan’s Christian rehab centers can help.

We offer medically monitored detox and addiction treatment for illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol. With the use of medicated-assisted and psychotherapy services, we help patients recover physically and psychologically from addiction.

Our faith-based recovery programs also incorporate a spiritual element and include supplementary options like bible studies and Christian counseling sessions. Regardless of the focus of these studies, people of all faith backgrounds are welcome to join us.

For more information about our Christian addiction treatment, Faith in Recovery, call us today at 888-280-4763 or contact us online and schedule a one-on-one consultation.