Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

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Yes, one can overdose on sleeping pills.

Sleeping pills, also known as hypnotics or sedatives, are medications designed to help individuals with insomnia or sleep difficulties. The three typical problems which people seek to address through sleeping pills are difficulty going to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up too early.

Sleeping pills work by impacting the central nervous system to encourage relaxation and start the sleep process. Various types of sleeping pills are available, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines (like zolpidem and eszopiclone), and other sedative-hypnotics.

Causes of Sleeping Pill Overdose

A sleeping pill overdose may happen if an individual exceeds the prescribed dosage of a sleep medication. Factors that can cause a sleeping pill overdose include:

  • Accidental Overdose: This occurs when there is a misreading or misunderstanding of dosing instructions. An individual may, for example, take an extra dose, forgetting that a dose has already been taken.
  • Intentional Overdose: This is when an individual deliberately takes more than the prescribed amount, often in an attempt to enhance sedation or cope with insomnia. They may believe that their prescribed dose is ineffective, and they need to increase the dose to experience the desired effects. Others may take more than their prescribed dose as a suicide attempt.
  • Tolerance and Dependence: Developing a tolerance to the medication is when increasingly higher doses are needed to achieve the same desired effect. Developing dependence on medication, in turn, leads to increased consumption.
  • Combining with Other Substances: Both sleeping pills and CNS depressants (such as alcohol) act on the central nervous system, slowing down brain activity. Combining them can lead to excessive sedation, respiratory depression, and a higher risk of overdose.
  • Underlying Health Conditions: Having pre-existing health conditions that affect the metabolism or elimination of the medication from the body.
  • Age and Sensitivity: Older adults may be more susceptible to the effects of certain sleeping pills, increasing the risk of overdose.
  • Psychiatric Conditions: Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may contribute to a higher likelihood of intentional overdose.
  • Polypharmacy: Polypharmacy means using many medications at the same time. A report by Stanford University found that taking strong prescription painkillers together with sleeping pills is associated with a greater risk of overdose due to potential interactions between these two types of drugs.

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills can have various side effects, though it's important to note that these side effects can vary depending on the specific medication. Common side effects may include:

  • Daytime Drowsiness: Because the effects of sleeping pills persist for an extended duration after it has been taken, they can often cause drowsiness or a "hangover" feeling the next day, which may impair your ability to concentrate and perform daily tasks.
  • Dizziness and Lightheadedness: Some individuals may experience dizziness or lightheadedness, especially when getting up from a sitting or lying position.
  • Cognitive Impairment: The use of sleeping pills may impact memory and cognitive function, resulting in challenges with learning.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Nausea, constipation, or diarrhea are potential gastrointestinal side effects.
  • Unusual Dreams: Some people report vivid or unusual dreams while taking sleeping pills.
  • Sleepwalking or Sleep-Eating: In rare cases, specific medications may cause behaviors like sleepwalking or sleep-eating.
  • Dependency and Tolerance: Long-term use of sleeping pills can lead to tolerance and dependency, meaning that over time, higher doses may be required to achieve the same effect.
  • Allergic Reactions: In certain situations, people might encounter allergic responses to sleeping pills, leading to symptoms such as swelling, itching, or difficulty breathing.
  • Rebound Insomnia: Stopping the use of some sleeping pills abruptly can result in rebound insomnia, where sleep problems worsen.

Signs of Sleeping Pill Overdose

Signs of a possible overdose of sleeping pills may include:

  • Difficulty Breathing: Struggling to breathe may indicate a severe overdose.
  • Extreme Drowsiness or Unconsciousness: The person may be difficult to wake up or may be in a state of deep unconsciousness.
  • Confusion or Hallucinations: Overdose can lead to confusion, hallucinations, or other altered states of consciousness.
  • Slow or Slurred Speech: Impaired speech may be evident.
  • Weakness or Unsteady Movements: Physical weakness or difficulty moving may occur.
  • Bluish Skin or Lips: This may indicate a lack of oxygen and a serious medical emergency.

Can Sleeping Pills Kill You?

Many people question ‘Can you die from sleeping pills?’, and if so ‘How many sleeping pills will kill you?’. An overdose of sleeping pills or sedatives can be life-threatening and potentially result in death. The severity of the consequences depends on various factors, including the type and amount of medication taken, the individual's overall health, and whether other substances were also ingested.

Exactly how many sleeping pills a person would need to take for it to be considered an overdose or to kill a person will depend on:

  • Type of sleeping pill: Different medications have different potencies and risks.
  • Individual factors: Age, weight, metabolism, and underlying health conditions can all influence how a person reacts to a medication.
  • Tolerance: Over time, people can develop a tolerance to sleeping pills, requiring higher doses for the same effect.

Therefore, there is no single "safe" or "overdose" quantity that applies to everyone. Taking any amount of sleeping pills beyond the prescribed or recommended dosage is potentially dangerous and can lead to serious health consequences.

What To Do if Someone Overdoses on Sleeping Pills

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on sleeping pills, treat it as an urgent medical emergency. Be prepared to take the following steps:

  • Contact Emergency Services: Call your local emergency number right away.
  • Provide Information: Be prepared to provide information about the type and amount of sleeping pills taken. If you have the pill bottle, bring it with you to the hospital.
  • Stay Calm: Try to keep the person calm and conscious, if possible.
  • Check for responsiveness: Gently shake the person and call their name loudly. If they don't respond, they may be unconscious.
  • Open their airway: Tilt their head back and lift their chin to open their airway.
  • Do Not Induce Vomiting: It is advised not to attempt to induce vomiting unless instructed by medical professionals. This caution is due to the fact that, in some instances, the ingestion of sleeping pills may have occurred a substantial amount of time before the overdose is discovered. Attempting to induce vomiting might prove ineffective in eliminating the ingested substance if it has already been absorbed into the bloodstream. This also poses the risk of choking.
  • Monitor Breathing: Ensure that the person's airway is clear and that they are breathing. If they stop breathing or lose consciousness, you may need to perform CPR if you are trained to do so.
  • Keep them warm: Cover them with a blanket to prevent them from losing body heat.
  • Stay with them: Do not leave the person alone until help arrives.

In some cases, especially if the overdose involves specific types of sleeping pills, medical professionals may administer naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses.

Treatment for Sleeping Pill Addiction

Treatment for sleeping pill addiction typically involves a combination of medical, psychological, and behavioral interventions.

  • Addiction treatment generally starts with medical detoxification, overseen by a healthcare professional, which involves slowly reducing the medication dosage to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. It can also include transitioning to a less addictive medication or alternative treatments for sleep disorders.
  • After the detoxification process, individuals undergoing addiction recovery will need to have regular medical check-ups. These check-ups are essential for monitoring their overall health and addressing any physical issues associated with the addiction. This ongoing medical supervision is crucial as they progress through the recovery journey.
  • Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia, can help address the underlying causes of sleep difficulties. CBT for insomnia can help individuals identify attitudes and beliefs that hinder their sleep, as well as overcome these negative thoughts and promote positive attitudes and beliefs.
  • Participation in support groups, alongside individual therapy, can also provide a sense of community and support during recovery.

In the recovery process from sleeping pill addiction, a key aspect involves shifting the focus toward promoting healthy sleep habits and making positive lifestyle changes. This can include things such as individuals being encouraged to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to help regulate their body's internal clock. Developing calming pre-sleep rituals, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath, can also signal to the body that it's time to wind down. In addition, recovery will include treating any co-occurring mental health conditions that may contribute to sleep disturbances and addiction, such as anxiety or PTSD.


Recovery from sleeping pill addiction is a gradual journey, and consistent support plays a pivotal role in achieving long-term success. Avenues Recovery Center offers specialized assistance tailored to individual needs, providing the necessary guidance and resources for a comprehensive recovery experience. Our talented team will be at your side, supporting and guiding you every step of the way to sobriety. We have helped thousands of people turn their lives around, and we can help you too! If you or someone you know is grappling with sleeping pill addiction, reach out to Avenues Recovery today and take the first step on a path toward lasting recovery.

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