women worried about overdose on sleeping pills

Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

Last Updated: May 9th 2022

Reviewed by Laura Riley

How Do Sleeping Pills Affect the Brain?

Sleeping pills affect the brain by manipulating the chemicals are known as neurotransmitters that regulate sleep. This can result in a sleeping pill overdose if too many are taken. Sleeping pills work by depressing the central nervous system, which slows down brain activity and makes you feel drowsy. They are typically used for the short-term treatment of insomnia or sleep disorders. Sleeping pills can be addictive and should only be used as directed by a doctor.

Some common sleeping pills include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.

  • Ambien – Ambien is a sleeping pill that comes in tablet form. It is a sedative-hypnotic drug that works by slowing down the activity of the brain. 
  • Lunesta – Lunesta is a sleeping pill that comes in tablet form.
  • Sonata – Sonata is a sleeping pill that comes in tablet form. It is a sedative-hypnotic drug that works by slowing down the activity of the brain.

What Are the Average Doses Used for Sleeping Pills?

The average doses used for sleeping pills can vary, however, most sleeping pills are taken at a dose of:

  • 1-2 mg for Ambien
  • 2-3 mg for Lunesta
  • 5-10 mg for Sonata

Is a Sleeping Pill Overdose Possible?

A sleeping pill overdose occurs when someone takes more than the recommended dose of sleep medication. Most people who overdose on sleeping pills only experience mild symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness. However, in some cases, an overdose can be deadly.

Sleeping pill overdoses can come as a result of the following:

  • Taking too many pills at once
  • Combining sleeping pills with other medications or alcohol
  • Not following the dosage instructions on the label

It’s important to remember that any sleep medication, including over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl and Unisom, can be dangerous in large amounts. So if you’re taking any type of sleep aid, it’s important to follow the dosage instructions carefully.

Origins of Sleeping Pills

Sleepings pills have been around for over a century and were initially used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Today, they are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.

There are two main types of sleep aids: prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs. Prescription medications include brands like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. Over-the-counter drugs include brands like Benadryl and Unisom. Both types of sleep aids work by depressing the central nervous system. This slows down brain function and helps you fall asleep.

How Much Is Too Much?

The amount of sleep medication that can cause an overdose varies from person to person. However, most people who overdose on sleeping pills only take between 2 and 4 times the recommended dose.

It’s important to remember that sleeping pills are only meant for short-term use. If you’re taking them for more than a few weeks, your body may build up a tolerance to the medication. This means you’ll need to take higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Taking a higher dose than recommended can increase your risk of overdose.

Prescription Drug Statistics

Sleeping pill overdoses are not common, but they do happen. In New Jersey, 2,805 overdose deaths per year. 3.70% of all deaths are from a drug overdose. 3.99% of nationwide OD deaths occur in New Jersey.

The most common reason people give for prescription drug abuse is trouble sleeping.

2.0 million people or 11.9% of people who misuse prescriptions are definitively addicted to the prescription drugs they misuse. Among addicts, 253,100 or 12.7% acknowledge their addiction.

In the US, 5.9 million people over the age of 12 abuse sedatives and/or tranquilizers, 20.1% for the first time. 20.9% of users report taking tranquilizers as sleep aids while 15.8% use tranquilizers to cope with emotions. Women are 11% more likely than men to be prescribed medication, but men are 22.9% more likely to misuse prescriptions.

45.8% of American adults used a prescription drug – legally or not – within the past 30 days. Healthcare specialists generally agree that a high rate of use and availability drives reported rates of prescription drug abuse, addiction, and ultimately, overdose. 16.3 million people misuse prescriptions in a year. 22.6% of them or 3.7 million people misuse prescriptions for the first time.

What to Do if You Suspect an Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

If you think someone has overdosed on sleeping pills, call 911 right away. If someone takes too much of a sedative-hypnotic drug like Ambien, Lunesta, or Sonata, it can depress the central nervous system to the point where breathing is difficult.

The overdose may not be fatal, but it’s best to get medical help just in case. An overdose of sleeping medication can be fatal if not treated right away. Try to keep the person awake and talking until help arrives. If the person is unconscious, place them in the recovery position and wait for help.

However, some people do experience serious complications from a sleeping pill overdose, such as:

  • Coma
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Reasons Why People Struggle With Sleep

If you’ve been struggling with sleep, your doctor may prescribe you a sleeping pill. The reasons why people struggle with sleep are varied and unique to each individual. Some common reasons include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Light exposure at night
  • Shift work
  • Alcohol consumption

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

Common side effects of sleeping pills include:

  • Drowsiness during the day
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach

How Can I Recover From an Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

If you think you’ve overdosed on sleeping pills, call 911 immediately. If you are taken to the hospital, they will give you activated charcoal to help absorb the overdose. They may also give you other treatments, such as fluids or medications to help your heart beat regularly again. Sleeping pills can be mixed with other substances. Some people mix sleeping pills with alcohol. This can be very dangerous and lead to overdose.

Are There People More Prone to Overdose or Die From Sleeping Pills?

The people more prone to overdose or die from sleeping pills are typically those who abuse them. People with a history of substance abuse or mental health disorders are also at a higher risk for overdose. Those who take sleeping pills for extended periods are also at a higher risk for overdose.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sleeping Pill Addiction?

A sleeping pill addiction can come in the form of abuse or dependence. Abuse is taking larger doses of sleeping pills than prescribed or using them in a way that is not recommended by a doctor. Dependence occurs when the body becomes so used to the presence of the sleeping pill that it cannot function normally without it. This means that quitting cold turkey can result in withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety.

Signs and symptoms of sleeping pill addiction can include:

  • Doctor shopping, or taking someone else’s pills
  • Strong cravings
  • Trouble with finances
  • Extreme changes in mood
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Isolating oneself and feelings of detachment

Always follow the instructions on the prescription label and never take more than the prescribed amount. Overdose can occur with as little as one pill if it is a high dose or if it is mixed with other substances, such as alcohol.

Are There Withdrawals From Sleeping Pills?

The withdrawal symptoms of sleeping pills can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Nausea

If you are experiencing any of these withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help. Withdrawal from sleeping pills can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases. 

What are the Long-term Effects of Abusing Sleeping Pills?

The long-term effects of abusing sleeping pills can include:

  • Memory problems
  • Impaired thinking
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Slurred speech
  • Balance problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Liver damage

If you or someone you know is abusing sleeping pills, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Sleeping pill addiction can be difficult to overcome on your own, but with treatment and support, recovery is possible. 

What Are Treatment Options Available for Sleeping Pills?

If you or someone you know is struggling with a sleeping pill addiction, don’t wait to get help. Contact a treatment center today for more information on how to safely detox and recover. The treatment options available for sleeping pills include:

  • Inpatient detox
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • 12-step meetings

Inpatient Detox

Inpatient detox is often the first step in treatment for sleeping pill addiction. This type of detox allows you to be monitored around the clock by medical professionals who can help keep you safe and comfortable as you withdraw from the drugs. Inpatient treatment is another option that can provide you with 24/7 care and support as you recover. 

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment can range from 30-90 days, depending on the severity of your case. During this time, you will live in a treatment facility and receive care and support from addiction specialists. Inpatient treatment commonly includes psychotherapy such as CBT and group therapy to discover the root causes of the addiction.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a less intensive form of treatment that can still provide you with the tools and support you need to recover. If you’re not ready to commit to inpatient treatment, or if your addiction is not as severe, outpatient treatment may be a better option for you. This type of treatment allows you to live at home and attend regular therapy sessions. 

12-Step Meetings

12-step meetings are another option for those struggling with sleeping pill addiction. These meetings can provide you with peer support and accountability as you recover. Many people find that 12-step meetings provide the support they need to stay sober. These meetings are free and open to anyone who wants to attend.

Channeling the strength to combat substance abuse is demanding. After years of confronting the depths of yourself, you’ve finally decided to get help. Picture the renewed version of yourself after completing treatment. At North Jersey Recovery, we prep you with all the tools necessary to craft your sobriety journey. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, feel free to reach out to our facility today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.