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.

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What do I need to know before taking sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers?

Before you decide to take any medication, you should make sure you have all the facts you need to feel confident about your decision.

See our page on what you should know before taking any psychiatric drug for guidance on the basic information you might want to know about any drug before you take it.

Will I get side effects?

Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers can have side effects, which can be unpleasant. Whether you get side effects or not, and how much they bother you, depends on which drug you are taking and your individual response. Check the side effects of benzodiazepines, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication sections for further details.

  • Frequency of side effects – the likelihood of experiencing each side effect is published for most drugs in the Patient Information Leaflets (PILs). Where available, it is also shown on our listings page for the individual drug. This information is not available for some of the older drugs.
  • Reporting adverse effects – if you experience troublesome side effects (whether or not they are listed in the PIL) it is important to report them to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses the drugs. You can use the Yellow Card scheme to do this, or you can ask a healthcare professional to do it for you.

You should not take any of the drugs listed if you are allergic to any of their ingredients. A full list of ingredients is provided in each Patient Information Leaflet (PIL).

On balance, I would argue that sedatives are an excellent short term solution but not something to depend for more than a few weeks at a time.

Can I drive while taking sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers?

All sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers slow your thinking and your reactions, so you should be cautious about driving or operating machinery after taking them as it could be dangerous.

Remember some drugs have a hangover effect, so you may still be unfit to drive or use machinery the next day.

It is illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs, and the person who prescribes your medication should warn you of this. They may be legally obliged to report you to the DVLA if they suspect your ability to drive is affected.

Are there any other legal considerations?

Some of the drugs discussed in this resource are controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This means that the rules for storing them, and writing and dispensing prescriptions, are stricter than for other drugs.

It also means that if you pass on any of these drugs to relatives or friends, you are technically committing a criminal act and could be liable to imprisonment or a fine.

The following are class C drugs:

  • most benzodiazepines
  • zopiclone
  • meprobamate

Barbiturates are classified as class B.


This information was published in August 2016. We will revise it in 2018.


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