min read
November 1, 2023

What Are Z-Drugs?

Z-Drugs is the name given to non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills, used to treat severe insomnia. They are called this because their names start with the letter Z. The Z-Drugs currently licensed for prescription in the UK are Zolpidem and Zopiclone. These are short-acting drugs, which means their effects only last for a short period. Z-Drugs are frequently prescribed for insomnia because they are less likely to have a ‘hangover’ effect than some other types of sleep medication. They are only available on prescription and cannot be purchased over the counter.

Zolpidem is widely prescribed and is effective in improving both how quickly you fall asleep and how long you stay asleep. It is typically prescribed for short-term use, often for two to four weeks.

Zopiclone is often prescribed when insomnia is particularly disruptive, affecting your sleep and the general quality of your life. It is also typically prescribed for short-term use of two to four weeks.

The reason why Z-Drugs should only be taken for a short amount of time is because they act in a very similar way to benzodiazepines, causing similar problems with dependence and withdrawal. If you take them for too long, your body may get used to them, making them less effective. You can also become dependent on them in order to fall asleep.

When would I be prescribed Z-Drugs?

Your doctor may prescribe you a Z-Drug if you are experiencing severe insomnia. This is usually after you have tried other non-drug treatments like lifestyle changes and improving your sleep hygiene.

If you are prescribed a Z-Drug, your GP will usually prescribe you the lowest possible dose for the shortest time possible.

Who would not be able to take Z-Drugs?

Z-Drugs are not suitable for some people. Your GP may not be able to prescribe them to you if you:

  • have ever had an allergic reaction to Zopiclone, Zolpidem or other medicines
  • have liver or kidney problems
  • have myasthenia gravis, a condition that causes muscle weakness
  • have breathing problems or sleep apnoea, where you stop breathing for short periods while sleeping
  • have ever had mental health problems
  • have ever had issues with alcohol or drugs
  • are trying to get pregnant, already pregnant, or breastfeeding

Side effects of Z-Drugs

Like many medicines, taking Z-Drugs can have side effects. These can include:

  • dry mouth or a bitter, metallic taste in your mouth
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • headaches
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a groggy, tired feeling the next day

When should I stop taking Z-Drugs?

After the recommended duration, your GP will help you stop taking Z-Drugs gradually to avoid negative withdrawal effects. If you are prescribed a Z-Drug and find that it doesn’t work for you, your doctor will not usually prescribe you a different Z-Drug.

Benefits of Z-Drugs for Sleep

The use of Z-Drugs can provide several benefits, including:

Falling Asleep Faster: When used correctly, Z-Drugs can help you fall asleep more quickly, reducing the time spent awake in bed.

Staying Asleep Longer: They can decrease the frequency of nighttime awakenings, helping you stay asleep throughout the night.

More Time Spent Asleep: Z-Drugs contribute to longer and more restful sleep, which is essential for your overall well-being.

Combining the use of Z-Drugs with non-drug options, such as maintaining good sleep hygiene practices, lifestyle adjustments, and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can lead to more effective management of insomnia. CBT-I is a highly effective and non-drug treatment for insomnia. It helps change negative thought patterns and behaviours related to sleep. Sleepio is a CBT-I treatment that works with you to develop a personalised insomnia treatment plan, empowering you to challenge negative thought patterns, establish healthy sleep habits, and enjoy restful nights of sleep.

In summary, Z-Drugs can offer hope for people dealing with sleep issues. Their benefits include falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer, and better quality sleep. However, their use should be guided by your GP, and it’s important to be aware of prescription requirements, potential side effects, and the need for short-term use.

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