Z-Drug Side Effects

Last updated: March 28, 2019

Doctors prescribe medications to cure insomnia when people have trouble sleeping. Chances are, these drugs belong to the group known as Z-Drugs. Some people thought that the Z is for a snooze, as in getting some “zzz’s.” Truth is, they are called Z-drugs because they contain Zaleplon, Zolpidem, or Zopiclone.

Although these sleep aids act the same way as benzodiazepines, they are another class of medicines. These drugs are also called hypnotics and have the same effects on the brain cells as benzodiazepines. Like “benzos,” they have the same long-term problems as benzodiazepines.

What are the side effects of Z-drugs?

Complex Sleep-Related Behavior

Complex sleep-related behavior is something that’s been observed in patients taking these drugs. They show signs of parasomnia. Parasomnia is an abnormality that happens during transitions between sleep stages. Examples of parasomnia include sleepwalking, nightmares, and bedwetting.

Those who experience parasomnia would sometimes get out of bed and perform activities. These activities are done while the person is in an altered state of consciousness. When you sleepwalk, you’re in between sleeping and being awake. You can be walking, eating, or driving a car without being aware of what you’re doing.

The activities are often limited to what you’re used to doing.

Aside from the actual walking part; a sleepwalker can also mutter, or talk while sleeping.

Sleepwalking is one of the most dangerous side effects of hypnotic drugs. You risk getting injured while sleepwalking. Best example is the risk of falling down the stairs. Among older adults who suffer from dementia, there is an increased risk of hip fractures.

You can get into an accident if you drive a car while sleepwalking. People get into accidents driving a car while awake, so you can imagine how dangerous it is to drive one while asleep.

Sleep-eating may sound trivial but it can be dangerous as well. You can ingest raw food which can result in food poisoning. There is also the risk of getting salmonella. You might also ingest non-food items while sleep-eating.

Amnesia

Complex behavior coupled with amnesia is a common side effect of sedative drugs. However, this is something that you only get from sedatives. You can drink alcohol and experience the same side effects. It is not unusual to see drunk people spend the night dancing half-naked in the streets only to forget what happened the following day.

When you take Z-drugs in high doses, the chances of experiencing these side effects are higher. The effects of these drugs are even induced when you take them together with alcohol.

Bizarre and compulsive behavior

If you think that sleepwalking is weird, you’ll be surprised to know that sleepwalking is not the most bizarre behavior related to Z-drugs. There are people who sleep-eat after regularly taking sedative drugs. Some have reported cases of sleep-sex.

The problem is, it is a bit difficult to distinguish between sex while asleep and sex with amnesia. Sex with amnesia is completely forgetting about having sex with someone. This is common even with those who don’t take Z-drugs. Sex with amnesia can be a result of a person getting one drink too many so they forget about having sex when the effects of alcohol have worn off.

Hallucinations and psychosis

This is the most frequent unusual side effect of Z-drugs. Those who use sedative drugs have reported having visual hallucinations.

Most z-drug-induced hallucinations last around 30 minutes. In rare cases, hallucinations can last several hours. Hours-long hallucinations are common to those who take these drugs together with other drugs, particularly serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.

Tolerance

If you take z-drugs on a regular basis, your body may develop a tolerance to it. This is why sedatives should be taken sparingly. Try as hard as you can to get natural sleep. Check your environment to see if there are other things that you can do to help yourself fall asleep. Take z-drugs only as a last resort. This way, your body won’t get too used to the effects of sedative drugs.

Dependence

If you take sedatives or sleeping pills on a regular basis, you can either develop a tolerance against it or your body may get too dependent on it. This means that your body might crave for these drugs even when you don’t need them. It can become an addiction and you may end up with more serious problems on top of your sleep disorders.

Addiction to hypnotics can also result into the impairment of your sleep-wake cycle. Your natural body clock will be highly compromised.

This can pose a problem because even though you are sleepy, you won’t fall asleep without the help of these drugs. Yes, even if you no longer need sedatives to fall asleep, your body is already conditioned that it needs prescription drugs to fall asleep.

Withdrawal

You might get withdrawal effects when you use z-drugs for a long period of time and you suddenly stop taking them. These are symptoms that come out when your body craves the effects of sedating drugs. You might feel like a smoker who decided to quit smoking.

Common withdrawal symptoms include

  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Tremor
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

Z-drugs can help treat insomnia and other sleep problems. However, there are also side effects associated with these sleep medications. It is important to know what to expect before taking sedatives. This will prepare you and your family from possible adverse effects beforehand. This way, z-drugs can help you to be better without causing any harm to yourself or to anyone.

Additional Resources

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.