Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills or Die from Sleeping Pills?

One-third to one-half of Americans have insomnia and complain of sleeping problems. You might be one of them, and you might be thinking about taking a sleeping pill. A sleeping pill can help your problem in the short term, but it’s important to know everything you should know about sleeping pills. Like can you overdose on sleeping pills, or can you die from sleeping pills. When you are informed, you can avoid misusing sleeping pills. 

Having an Overdose on Sleeping Pills

Many people wonder, can you overdose on sleeping pills? Well, an overdose happens when a person takes too much of a substance at one time. Overdoses often lead to death. Unfortunately, it is possible for people to overdose on sleeping pills. This can cause an accidental death by sleeping pill overdose. And, sadly, some are intentional suicides. People with serious depression may especially overdose on sleeping pills or mix them with other drugs or alcohol.

Can You Die from Sleeping Pills?

A report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stated that drug overdose deaths have increased consistently since 1999, with more than 64,000 deaths reported in 2016. Furthermore, sedative drugs, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines (common sleeping pills) are noted among the main causes. 

What Are Sleeping Pills?

Most sleeping pills are classified as “sedative hypnotics,” a specific class of drugs used to help people go to sleep or stay asleep.

Understanding Sedative Drugs

Sedatives are depressants. They act upon the central nervous system (CNS) to slow down the functions of the body. Usually, they are prescribed as tranquilizers or sleeping pills to relieve anxiety or enable sleep. The two main kinds of sedatives are barbiturates and benzodiazepines however, sedative-hypnotics include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various hypnotics.


Ativan, Librium, Valium, and Xanax are anti-anxiety medications, but they also increase drowsiness and help people sleep. Halcion is an older benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic medicine that has been replaced with newer medicines to a great extent. Although these drugs are helpful in the short term, they are all potentially addictive and can cause issues with memory and attention. This makes them unsuitable for long-term treatment of sleeping problems.

Commonly Prescribed Benzodiazepines:

  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Tranxene (clorazepate)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)


Barbiturates are another group of drugs in the sedative-hypnotic class. Short or long-acting barbiturates are often prescribed as sedatives or sleeping pills. However, it is more common for these hypnotics to be used as anesthesia. A barbiturate overdose can be fatal.

Commonly Prescribed Barbiturates

  • Luminal (phenobarbital)
  • Nembutal (pentobarbital)

Hypnotics (non-benzodiazepine and non-barbiturate)

There are newer medications that can help you fall asleep faster. These sleep-inducing drugs bind to the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines but are less likely than benzodiazepines to be habit-forming. Still, over time they may cause physical dependence.

The sleeping pill, Rozerem acts differently than the others in that it affects the brain hormone called melatonin and is not addictive. Similarly, Belsomra affects a brain chemical called orexin and is not addictive. Another sleep aid that is not addictive is Silenor, a low-dose form of antidepressant called doxepin.

Commonly Prescribed Hypnotics

  • Ambien (zolpidem)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Rozerem (ramelteon)
  • Sonata (zaleplon)
  • Belsomra (suvorexant)
  • Silenor (doxepin)

How Do They Work?

Sedatives work by changing certain nerve communications in your CNS to your brain. In this instance, they relax you by slowing down your brain activity. In particular, sedatives make the neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) have to work overtime. GABA is responsible for slowing your brain down. By raising its level of activity in the CNS, sedatives allow GABA to produce a much stronger effect on your brain activity.

What Are Some Side Effects of Sleeping Pills?

Unfortunately, you won’t know whether you’ll have side effects from a sleeping pill until you try it. However, sleeping pills can obstruct normal breathing and be harmful to people who have certain chronic lung problems such as asthma, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Some of the immediate side effects of sleeping pills that you might notice include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Blurred vision 
  • Impaired depth perception
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Slowed breathing
  • Impaired response to pain
  • Problems focusing or thinking
  • Appetite changes
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Balance problems
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Speaking slowly/ slurring words
  • Impairment the following day

Long-term sedative use can lead to the following side effects:

  • Forgetting or losing your memory (amnesia)
  • Symptoms of depression such as:
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Liver dysfunction or failure
  • Developing a dependence on sedatives 

It’s important to be aware of the side effects of sleeping pills so you can stop taking the drug and call your doctor to avoid more serious problems such as having an overdose on sleeping pills.

What are Parasomnias?

Parasomnias are movements, behaviors, and actions that you don’t have any control over, like sleepwalking. This is one of the potentially harmful side effects of some sleeping pills. During parasomnia, you’re asleep and unaware of what’s happening. Sleeping pill parasomnias are complex sleep behaviors and could include:

  • Sleep eating
  • Making phone calls
  • Having sex
  • Sleep driving

Although rare, parasomnias are difficult to detect once the medication takes effect. Since these behaviors are more likely to happen if you increase your dosage, take only what your doctor prescribes.

Sleeping Pill Overdose

Many people not only wonder can you overdose on sleeping pills, but also, can you die from sleeping pills? Well, as dangerous as overdosing on sleeping pills is, it doesn’t always lead to death. Most of the hypnotics that were dangerous enough to lead to death are no longer being sold. 

The pills currently on the market generally contain milder compounds that aren’t potentially lethal. Manufacturers claim these modern formulas are made to be safer, less potent, and ensure that a sleeping pill overdose is not an effective suicide method anymore. However, although the newer sleep-inducing drugs are less potent, they are still not 100% safe. They are still a threat and high doses can be fatal. 

Causes of Overdose


An overdose on sleeping pills may be deliberate to commit suicide. Sedatives are commonly used for this because it is believed there won’t be any pain. Nevertheless, not all suicide attempts succeed because vomiting is common when the drug is taken in excess. In this case, the person may survive but still end up with brain damage due to the lack of oxygen.


Can you overdose on sleeping pills accidentally? An accidental overdose on sleeping pills can occur if the individual takes too much of the drug or combines it with other drugs that strengthen the depressive effects. Accidental overdoses are likely to occur for several reasons:

  1. A person may become dependent on sleeping pills, but over time the drug has less of an effect. Being desperate to get sleep, the person may end up taking too many.
  1. People who use sedatives recreationally may switch from taking the pills to injecting the dissolved drug and miscalculate the dosage.
  1. From 2002 to 2015, the rate of overdose deaths from combining sedatives and opioids has doubled. The majority of sedative-related overdose deaths happen for this reason.
  1. Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol can cause the person to stop breathing and may result in death.
  1. Grapefruit increases the amount of a sleep-inducing drug that is absorbed into the bloodstream and prolongs its effects. This causes over-sedation and an unintentional overdose.
  1. An allergic reaction to prescribed hypnotics can be life-threatening. Sedative drugs may interfere with breathing in someone who has chronic lung problems.
  1. Even though over-the-counter hypnotics are safe at the recommended dosage during pregnancy, there are some risks. This is particularly true in the first and third trimesters and if combined with other drugs. Taking sleeping pills while pregnant and combining Restoril (a benzodiazepine) can cause stillbirth.

Signs of a Sedative Overdose

Signs of a sedative overdose are similar to those of an alcohol overdose, which is also a depressant substance. The slowing of brain function first affects the parts of the body that control voluntary functions. When someone overdoses, the drug may begin to affect involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing. Symptoms of a sedative overdose include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Problems breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Unsteadiness standing
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Coldness of skin
  • Bluish tinge to lips, fingers, and skin
  • Unconsciousness
  • Shock
  • Coma

Sleeping Pill Overdose Complications

Most patients or sedative users don’t think about how sleeping pills work, making it very easy to overdose accidentally. An overdose of hypnotics can cause serious problems. Some of the side effects of sleeping pill overdose are:

  • Brain injury from lack of oxygen caused by depressed breathing
  • Loss of memory
  • Facial paralysis
  • Paranoid delusions
  • Loss of control of bodily functions
  • Development of psychological disorders

Even doses as low as 70mg (7 to 14 times higher than the usual dose of 5-10mg) may cause damage to the bodies of some people. Brain damage and physical injury can lead to painful side effects for life.

What To Do If Someone Overdoses

If you think that someone has taken a sleeping pill overdose, 

  • Call an ambulance immediately
  • While waiting for the paramedics, turn the person in the coma position with the body face down, the head turned to one side, and one knee bent slightly. Check the person’s airway to make sure it’s clear and that he or she is breathing regularly. Check for a pulse in the neck and wrist. 
  • If there isn’t a pulse in the neck, start CPR. Turn the person on his or her back and call the ambulance and tell them that the person is in cardiac arrest.
  • When the ambulance arrives, show the medics any empty bottles or packets of pills that the person may have taken.

Sleeping Pill Overdose Treatment

People who overdose on sedatives are admitted to the hospital and closely monitored, usually in the intensive care unit. About 25% of overdose deaths happen after the person has been admitted. Emergency treatment may include some or all of the following:

  • A stomach pump
  • Giving activated charcoal to absorb the excess drug
  • Medication to move the drug through the urinary tract or bowels
  • Giving IV fluids to prevent dehydration and stabilize body functions
  • Respirator if breathing is impaired
  • Dialysis to clean the blood
  • Medication to stabilize heart function
  • Psychiatric care, including suicide watch
  • Flumazenil reverses the sedation caused by hypnotics and may be used if the person doesn’t develop seizure symptoms. 

People can generally recover from a sedative overdose if treatment is started as soon as possible. The overdose effects tend to only last as long as the drug is in the system, as long as there hasn’t been any extended oxygen deprivation.

Getting Help for Sleeping Pill Addiction

If you have an addiction to sleeping pills, you might have cravings and problems falling asleep without them. At Harmony Ridge Recovery, we can help you or someone you love overcome addiction and reach your goals.


Because it’s dangerous to stop taking hypnotics abruptly, medical detox can help you safely get rid of the addiction. The first step is a gradual reduction of the drug to prevent seizures. Anticonvulsant medications are effective in benzodiazepine withdrawal if the person isn’t dependent on other drugs.

Withdrawal Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaky hands
  • Grand mal seizures

Treatment Programs

Residential/Inpatient Treatment

Residential programs are important for people who have a severe addiction, have tried to quit previously and have relapsed, or don’t have a supportive environment at home. In this type of program, the individual lives at the treatment facility in safe, structured surroundings while in treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A partial hospitalization program is the highest intensity of outpatient treatment. Individuals in this type of program spend every day at their rehab facilities for approximately 8 hours per day and go home in the evenings.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) require patients to attend rehab for around three to four hours a day, a few days a week. An IOP is a type of outpatient treatment program. Thus, IOP patients can live in their own homes and tend to their normal lives in the real world in between treatment sessions. 

Standard Outpatient Program (OP)

A standard outpatient program is the least intensive type of rehab program as it only requires its patients to attend rehab for around a couple of hours a day, once or twice a week. As the least intensive form of rehab treatment, outpatient program patients live in their own homes during the period of time that they are receiving care. 

Receive Help Overcoming an Overdose or Addiction to Sleeping Pills at Harmony Ridge Recovery

You don’t have to go through this alone. At Harmony Ridge, our experienced, professional staff can help you achieve lifelong recovery after experiencing a sleeping pill overdose or addiction. We will provide a supportive environment in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. Contact us today, and discover what we can do for you.

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