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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.

Comparing benzodiazepines

This page has information to help you compare different benzodiazepines. It has tables for comparing benzodiazpines mainly used for anxiety, and for comparing benzodiazepines mainly used for insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep).

It also has information explaining how benzodiazepines differ from each other.

Some of the drugs in these tables have more than one name. You might know a drug by its generic name or its trade name. See our page on drug names for more information.

Comparing benzodiazepines mainly used for anxiety

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Long-acting drugs

Generic name

Trade names

Form

Half-life

Dietary considerations

chlordiazepoxide

Librium

Tropium

  • capsules
  • tablets

36 to 200 hours

  • contains lactose

diazepam

Diazemuls

Diazepam RecTubes

Stesolid

Tensium

  • tablets
  • oral liquid
  • injectable liquid
  • rectal tubes
  • suppositories

36 to 200 hours

  • tablets contain lactose

Short-acting drugs

alprazolam

Xanax

  • tablets

12 to 15 hours

  • contains lactose

lorazepam

Ativan

  • tablets
  • injectable liquid

10 to 20 hours

  • tablets contain lactose

oxazepam

none

  • tablets

6 to 20 hours

  • contains lactose

Comparing benzodiazepines mainly used as sleeping pills

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Long-acting drugs

Generic name

Trade names

Form

Half-life

Dietary considerations

nitrazepam

Mogadon

  • tablets

24 to 40 hours

  • contains lactose

Short-acting drugs

loprazolam

none

  • tablets

6 to 12 hours

  • contains lactose

lormetazepam

Dormagen

  • tablets

10 to 12 hours

  • contains lactose

temazepam

none

  • tablets
  • oral liquid

5 to 15 hours

  • tablets contain lactose

"Different medications work  for different people. Lorazepam suited me at the time I was in crisis, and diazepam suits me better in the longer term."

How benzodiazepines differ from each other

There are several ways in which benzodiazepines are different from each other:

Length of half-life

Some benzodiazepines act on your brain and body for longer than others. The half-life of each drug is a helpful way to understand how long a drug’s effects may last.

Short-acting benzodiazepines have a shorter half-life. This means that the drugs are processed and leave your body more quickly. Short-acting drugs have a higher risk of withdrawal symptoms. This is because your body has less time to adapt to working without the drug once you stop taking it.

Long-acting benzodiazepines have a longer half-life. This means that the drugs are processed by your body more slowly and take longer to leave the body. You are more likely to experience a ‘hangover’ effect when taking these drugs. But you are less likely to have withdrawal problems.

Generally, short-acting benzodiazepines are used as sleeping pills and long-acting benzodiazepines are used for anxiety. But this is not always the case. Some drugs for anxiety may help you sleep if you take them at night. And lower doses of sleeping pills may help you feel calm if you take them during the day.

Potency (strength)

Benzodiazepines can have different levels of potency. This is to do with the strength of the chemical reaction that each drug causes in your body.

If you take a lower dose of a high-potency benzodiazepine, this may cause similar effects to a higher dose of a low-potency benzodiazepine.

Metabolisation (breakdown in the body)

Benzodiazepines are broken down by the body in different ways. This process is known as your body metabolising the drug.

Some benzodiazepine drugs, such as diazepam, produce further benzodiazepine chemicals when they are metabolised. These additional chemicals stay in your body and make the overall effect of the drug last longer.

This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

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