Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers
Explains what sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers are used for, how the medication works, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.
What do I need to know before taking sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers?
This page has information which may help you decide whether to begin taking sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers. It covers:
- Side effects from sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers
- Driving while taking sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers
- Legal controls for sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers
See our page on what you should know before taking any psychiatric drug for more information that may help with your decision.
Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers can have side effects, which can be unpleasant. Whether or not you get side effects depends on which drug you are taking and how you react to that drug.
For information on the side effects of specific types of medication, see our pages on:
- side effects of benzodiazepines
- non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills
- non-benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication
It may also help to know the following:
- How common side effects are. You can find out how likely you are to experience side effects from the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) of a specific medication. You can download the PILs for individual drugs from our sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers A-Z. You should also have a copy of the PIL inside your medication package. Information on how common side effects are may not available for some older drugs.
- Allergies and dietary considerations. Certain drugs may contain ingredients that you might be allergic to or wish to avoid, such as lactose. You can find a list of ingredients for a specific drug from its PIL. Or see our pages on comparing benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills and non-benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication for information on dietary considerations for different drugs.
All sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers slow your thinking and your reactions. This means driving or operating machinery after taking these drugs could be dangerous.
How long you should avoid these activities for depends on which drug you take and how long its effects last. With some medication, you may need to avoid driving or using machinery the day after taking the drug.
You are not breaking the law if:
- you take your medication as directed by whoever prescribes it to you, and
- your driving is not impaired by the drugs.
But it is illegal to drive or attempt to drive if your ability to do so is impaired by any drug. This includes medication which you have been legally prescribed.
For some minor tranquillisers, it is also an offence to drive, attempt to drive, or be in charge of a motor vehicle while you have more than a certain amount of that drug in your body. The person who prescribes your medication should discuss this with you.
They may be also legally obliged to report you to the Drivers Vehicle and Licence Association (DVLA) if they suspect your ability to drive is affected.
See our page on medication and driving for more information about this.
Some of these medications are controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This means that stricter rules may apply to these drugs, such as for writing and dispensing prescriptions.
It also means that if you are in possession of these drugs when you haven't been prescribed them, or you pass on any of these drugs to relatives or friends, you are technically committing a criminal offence. This means you could be liable to imprisonment or a fine.
Which sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers are controlled drugs?
- Most benzodiazepines are class C controlled drugs. This includes every drug listed on our page on comparing benzodiazepines. These are the benzodiazepines currently licensed for prescription in the UK.
- The sleeping pills zopiclone and zolpidem are also class C controlled drugs.
- The anti-anxiety drug pregabalin is a class C controlled drug.
- Barbiturates are a class B controlled drug. These are rarely prescribed nowadays as sedative medication.
If you want to more about this, you can speak to your doctor or pharmacist. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also has information about controlled medicines, including how to store and get prescriptions for controlled drugs.
This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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