Explains what sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers are used for, how the medication works, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.
Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers are sedative medications. This means they slow down your body and brain's functions. For example, this may be your breathing, heartbeat and thought processes.
These medications can be prescribed for severe anxiety or insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep). This includes prescribing:
You may also hear these drugs referred to as hypnotics and anxiolytics. And although we use the term ‘sleeping pills’ to describe many of these drugs, some of them may also be available as a liquid, either to swallow or inject.
These drugs are usually prescribed to:
They can’t cure anxiety or insomnia. This is because they don't deal with the underlying causes of these problems. But they can help you feel calmer and more relaxed in the short term.
The healthcare professionals who can prescribe you sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers include:
These information pages usually refer to 'your doctor' prescribing this medication. They are the most likely person to prescribe you these drugs.
You should only be offered these drugs if:
These recommendations come from healthcare guidelines produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British National Formulary (BNF). Doctors and other prescribers should follow these guidelines when they offer you any kind of drug.
Healthcare guidelines recommend that you only take sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers for a short time. This is because for most people:
These are the recommendations for how long to take the different types of drug:
These are only guidelines for doctors to follow. You can discuss what is best for you with your doctor.
This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
Need more support with this issue? Our helplines are here for you.
Need the references and evidence sheet for this page? Contact our publishing team.
Want to reproduce content from this page? See our page on permissions and licensing.