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Medicine check-ups for older adults

Sleep medicines

​​​​​Sleep patterns change as you get older. Older adults spend more time in light sleep and wake up more often. This can lead to poor sleep which can:

  • affect your mood
  • affect how well you’re able to cope with stress
  • affect how well you’re able to do your daily activities
  • raise your blood pressure
  • affect your memory
  • weaken your immune system
  • lead to confusion and falls
  • make you feel pain more easily

Common sleep medicines include:

Type of medicine Name of medicine
benzodiazepineslorazepam (Ativan)
oxazepam (Restoril)
clonazepam (Rivotril)
alprazolam (Xanax)
sedativeszopiclone (Imovane)
zolpidem (Ambien)
antidepressantsmirtazapine (Remeron)
doxepin (Silenor, Sinequan)
amitriptyline (Elavil)
over-the-counter medicinesmedicines with dimenhydrinate (Gravol)
medicines with diphenhydramine (Nytol, Calmex)

Some of these medicines work by helping you fall asleep faster. Others help you stay asleep longer (up to 30 minutes longer).


These medicines may help you to sleep better if you use them for about 2 to 4 weeks.


If you use these medicines more than a few weeks, they may not work as well as they did at first. These medicines may also make it harder for you to fall asleep without using medicine. Risks and side effects of sleep medicines include:

  • feeling tired during the day
  • dizziness and falls
  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • trouble peeing (urinating)
  • trouble having a bowel movement (constipation)
  • blurred vision
  • dry mouth
  • having a motor vehicle accident (if you drive)
  • having trouble doing your daily tasks

Do you need a medicine check-up?

It’s important to regularly talk to your healthcare provider and pharmacist about your medicines. Ask if you still need to take all of your medicines or if you can take a lower dose.

Most medicines for sleep should be lessened slowly over time. This will help your body get used to sleeping without them. Ask your healthcare provider how to lessen sleep medicines safely.

More information

For more information about sleep medicines, search the name of the medicine in the medication database.

Current as of: March 5, 2020

Author: Seniors Health Strategic Clinical Network