Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

The withdrawal process from sleeping pills usually lasts three weeks and is accompanied by: anxiety, body spasms, delirium, insomnia, and seizures. Learn more what to expect during the sleeping pill withdrawal process.

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Sedatives can help us get to sleep. But, they can also be habit forming.

  • Barbituates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Hypnotic sleep aids
  • Z-drugs containing zolpidem or zopiclon

…each of these can lead to physical dependence or even addiction. So, if you are thinking about quitting sleeping pills but afraid to do it alone, what can you do? Treatment centers staffed with specialized doctors and nurses can help you cope. They can make your detox journey more pleasant, safe and less painful.

Here, we review the possible risks and side effects of stopping sleeping pills. We’ll explain what you can expect during detox in a step-by-step guide. Plus, we’ll talk about the safest way to deal with withdrawal. Finally, we’ll give you some tips about how to help a loved one during detox.

Still have questions at the end of the article? We welcome your questions and/or personal experiences with sleeping pill withdrawal. In fact, we try to answer all real life questions personally and promptly.

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Defining Withdrawal

Withdrawal is a set of physical or psychological symptoms that follow the abrupt discontinuation of psychoactive drugs such as sleeping pills. Withdrawal occurs after a period of physical dependence. We’ll explain more about that below. But what you need to know first is that many people experience difficulties while quitting sleeping pills.

You are not alone.

You may have tried to quit sleeping pills before and discovered that the symptoms you experienced were more severe than you anticipated. Rebound insomnia can last for days. Anxiety and panic can peak. Perhaps you even decided to go back to using sleeping pills just to relieve those symptoms.

Withdrawal from sleeping pills is most safely performed in the setting of a licensed detox clinic, where professionals provide you with the help you need. Withdrawal does not need to be pure agony.


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Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Symptoms

Continued use of sleeping pills can produce physical dependence over the course of several weeks or months. Even if you regularly use sleeping pills for just a few weeks, you can become drug-dependent. When you try to stop using them, your body will produce withdrawal symptoms. The most common sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms include:

1. Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

  • delirium
  • fever
  • headaches
  • irregular heartbeat
  • nausea
  • racing pulse
  • seizures
  • shaky hands
  • sweating

2. Behavioral Withdrawal Symptoms

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • insomnia

How Long Does It Take To Withdraw From Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pill withdrawal usually takes about three weeks. However, some symptoms can persist in the weeks and months to follow acute withdrawal.

WEEK 1 WITHDRAWAL ONSET. Sleeping pill withdrawal usually begins 24 hours after last dose. Anxiety, confusion, convulsions, vomiting, changes in mood, and memory loss are often the first signs that indicate the start of the withdrawal process. Medications to ease withdrawal discomfort are usually intensively given during the first week. Doctors and nurses monitor your condition 24/7 and follow the intensity of your symptoms. The first week is the most critical for your doctors to determine the further course of treatment.

WEEK 2 WITHDRAWAL PEAK. Sleeping pill withdrawal peak is characterized by insomnia, extreme sweats, increased heart rate and blood pressure, panic attacks, feeling of depression, tremors, and intense cravings. At this stage you may feel the least motivated to move on and finish the process, but nurses will remain by your side reminding you that you need to endure and finish the process till the end. Be aware of the intensity of the symptoms during this week. Your blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature will be closely monitored and steps will be taken to ensure that you remain at safe levels.

WEEKS 3 WITHDRAWAL END. After the third week, remaining physical symptoms should fade. Sometimes depression and cravings can last for several weeks to several months, especially if you were a heavy, chronic user.

Treating side effects of withdrawal

Withdrawal management of sleeping pill withdrawal includes medical and psychological care. When undergoing a supervised medical detox, you can expect 24 hour a day supervision. A doctor will see you on admission and will be on call to assist you in case any complications arise. Nurses and medical staff dispense medications as directed by your doctor and provide you with information about withdrawal. Furthermore, a psychologist or addiction counselor should be available to meet with you and discuss your treatment goals.

A reputable medical detox clinic should be quiet and calm. During your stay at the clinic, you’ll sleep and rest most of the time, and do some moderate activities such as walking, engage in meditation, or other calming practices. Sometimes, clinics arrange for support group meetings or encourage visitors. However, because withdrawal can provoke states of excitement, your daily routine should remain basic and low-key.

Consulting a doctor or other medical professional who is knowledgeable about sleeping pill dependence and addiction will reduce the probability or being misdiagnosed and exposed to life threatening withdrawal consequences. Call us.

We can help you end the repeated cycle of drug abuse.

You don’t need to do it on your own.

Levels Of Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

Medical experts generally recognize three levels of sleeping pill withdrawal. The possible risks and dangers of withdrawal side effects highlight the need for medical supervision. Here, we’ve broken down main levels of withdrawal and the timeline of symptom appearance.

Level 1) Minor Withdrawal is characterized by shaky hands, sweating, mild anxiety, insomnia, nausea and headache. These symptoms may appear within 24 after quitting hours after quitting.

Level 2) Mid-level Withdrawal is characterized by visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations, seizures, racing pulse, and irregular heartbeat. These symptoms can appear within 72 hours of quitting.

Level 3) Severe Withdrawal is characterized by delirium, inability to distinguish hallucination from reality, excessive sweating, seizures, irregular heartbeat, fever, and can even result in death. Sleeping pill withdrawal that manifests these severe symptoms usually peak during the second week after last dose. It is very important to seek medical help in order to address these symptoms as they occur. 

Regardless of the intensity and severity of withdrawal, medical professionals use various techniques and medications to help you overcome the discomfort during withdrawal. With the right support you can overcome your addiction and begin creating a sober and more fulfilling life. Call us to start the process.


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Factors That Influence Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

Each person’s experience during withdrawal is unique. People who undergo detox have reported going through a range of different physical, emotional, and mental experiences. While some symptoms are common, particular symptoms depend on the severity of drug dependence as well as your physical and mental health. Other factors that contribute to the severity, intensity, and duration of a withdrawal generally include:

  1. The length of time you’ve been using sleeping pills.
  2. The amount of sleeping pills you’ve been taking.
  3. Whether you abuse multiple drugs besides sleeping pills.
  4. Your general physical health, age, and gender.
  5. Your unique body response and metabolism of sleeping pills.
  6. The presence of co-existing physical or psychological health conditions (eg. diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or an anxiety disorder).

Withdrawal Methods: Tapering vs. Cold Turkey

Quitting sleeping pills “cold turkey” means that you stop drug use without any dosing adjustment over time; you just quit using the drugs 100%. NOTE HERE: It is dangerous to quit sleeping pills cold turkey; doing so could result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, people who quit sleeping pills cold turkey are at a high risk of relapse because the cravings are often intense. Plus, the withdrawal period can be incredibly uncomfortable.

The safest way to stop using sleeping pills is by tapering off them slowly under the supervision of a prescribing doctor. The two main purposes of tapering off drugs are to reduce any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and to prevent life-threatening complications from arising. It is still possible to experience some withdrawal symptoms when tapering off sleeping pills, but they are usually milder in comparison with those from abrupt cessation.


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The Safest Way To Withdraw From Sleeping Pills

Withdrawal from sleeping pills is most successful when performed at a licensed detox clinic. Specialized clinics have professional teams of doctors and nurses who can monitor your condition as you go through withdrawal. They can medically assist you in any way needed. Your condition will be followed and your doctor will go through daily evaluations during the first days of your stay. In sum, professionally supervised detox can make the withdrawal process safer and much more bearable.

Treatments that Address Withdrawal

Medications used to assist the withdrawal from sleeping pills include two main medications:

Clonidine – Prescribed to help you deal with nausea and vomiting.

Buspirone – Prescribed for the regulation of generalized anxiety disorder. This drug doesn’t cause physical dependence and can relieve the emotional effects of withdrawal. The only downside is that buspirone takes 2-3 weeks before it begins to produce its effects. People going through sleeping pill withdrawal may begin taking buspirone as they taper down their sleeping pill doses.

Psychological and mental support can also make it easier as you come off sleeping pills. The strategies can be particularly helpful as you address insomnia and anxiety. These following modalities can help:

Relaxation techniques
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for sleep problems
Combination programs that look at goal-setting, discontinuation management and coping with anxiety

You don’t have to wait to hit the rock bottom before checking into detox. People check themselves in voluntarily to detox every day. Call us and break free from sleeping pill dependence TODAY.

Who Can Help You With Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

Sleeping pill withdrawal performed at home without any guidance may lead to life threatening side effects. It is essential to ask for professional help when you’re considering quitting sleeping pills. Medical professionals and experts in the field of dependence and addiction can monitor your detox safely. Qualified experts in the field of sleeping pill addiction who can assist you during withdrawal can include:

  • Addiction doctor (MD specialist)
  • Addiction treatment center
  • Licensed detox clinic
  • Family doctor
  • Psychiatrist and/or psychologist

Self Care During Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

In addition to the care and support you’ll find during a medically supervised detox, you can use these self-care tips to cope with sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms easily:

1. Don’t expect results overnight.  People in withdrawal usually grow impatient easy and want to rush through withdrawal and be done with it quickly. That’s normal. Nobody wants to feel anxious, scared, and paranoid for a long period of time. We get that. But your body needs time to get its balance back. Just as dependence doesn’t develop overnight, it cannot disappear overnight. Your body needs at least that much time, and sometimes even longer, to recover from the effects sleeping pills have inflicted over your health. Give yourself some time and space to heal.

2. Participate in group therapy and rely on external support. 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) work well as a stepping stone to people in recovery from sleeping pill dependence and addiction. It’s hard to go through sleeping pill withdrawal without having supportive, caring and understanding people around you. Having a friend alongside can make a great difference in withdrawal. When you feel like losing hope, your support is there to remind you that you can succeed.

3. Change your eating habits and drink a lot of water. Drink plenty of water and eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. Being hydrated during withdrawal and detox will tremendously help your body’s regeneration.

4. Learn to breathe deeply. Breathing techniques practiced during yoga and meditation can help you calm yourself naturally when being hit by anxiety, fear or during other stressful situations.

5. Exercise. Exercise helps ease withdrawal symptoms in several ways. Anytime you get up and start moving, you’re releasing endorphins, natural feel-good brain chemicals that can help ease some of the depression or blues you may experience.

6. Sleep. Sleep and rest are the body’s natural ways of healing. Give yourself plenty of time for sleep. Rest often, even if it just means laying in bed.

7. Share your feelings. Don’t suppress your thoughts and feeling. Instead, share them with a therapist, or a friend. Pick up the phone and call a friend, or ask someone to stay with you during withdrawal.

8. Keep a journal. Journaling your feelings can help you process them and distract you from any negative emotions during withdrawal. All you need is a pen and paper or a laptop, and you can write each experience during the day.

How Does the Brain Become Dependent?

Sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms are caused by neurotransmitter rebound. Sleeping pills suppress the action of GABA neurotransmitter systems. This is because sleeping pills affect the GABA system to create relaxation, sleep, and calmness. After several weeks of daily dosing, the system adapts. It starts working harder and harder to overcome the effect of sleeping pills so that it can function at normal levels, in spite of the sleeping pills.

When sleeping pills are suddenly removed from the brain, then the neurotransmitter rebound in the GABA system leads to insomnia, nightmares, hallucinations, anxiety, panic, muscle cramps, and seizures. When these drugs are suddenly removed from the body, the neurotransmitter system still continues to function beyond normal levels until it evens out. Since sleeping pills are no longer present to suppress the effects, what we now see are effects which are precisely the opposite of those caused by sleeping pills.

Withdrawal is much like two people playing tug-of-war. When one person suddenly lets go of the rope, the other flies in the opposite direction. In the same way, when sleeping pills are suddenly removed from a neurotransmitter system which has been fighting to overcome its effects – the neurotransmitter system goes flying off in the opposite direction. From hyper relaxed, the system goes into a hyper-excited state.

There is help available for people trying to give up sleeping pills, even after a long period of heavy use. Medical treatment can greatly reduce or alleviate most of the symptoms of sleeping pills withdrawal. Call us for more information on how to undergo detox with medical guidance.

Sleeping Pill Dependent Or Sleeping Pill Addicted?

Dependence is an expected physical outcome of regular use of sleeping pills. Dependence develops when the neurons adapt to the repeated exposure to sleeping pills and only function normally in their presence. Sleeping pill dependence may involve:

  1. High tolerance for sleeping pills as your body adapts, leading to a desire for larger or more frequent doses.
  2. Physical symptoms of withdrawal when you attempt to stop using sleeping pills.
  3. Some or all the symptoms of addiction.

However, addiction is characterized by the inability to stay quit. So, if you go through withdrawal and cannot imagine living without a sleeping pill…you may be addicted to them.

Talking to people who care is the right step in choosing medical help. Call us if you’d like to learn more about becoming drug-free. You can free yourself from sleeping pill addiction.

Supporting Someone in Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

If you are supporting a friend or a family member who is coming off sleeping pills you may find that the usual approaches are not effective. Withdrawal can cause extremely bizarre and uncommon physical and psychological reactions. This may feel overwhelming and may make you unsure about how to proceed further. The most important thing you can do is be there, be available and almost constantly give encouragement.

Make sure to be gentle. Comfort your loved one during sleeping pill withdrawal in both, verbal and nonverbal ways. Hold their hand(s), hug them, and let them now that everything is going to be OK. Let your loved one know it’s OK to cry, be angry, and express whatever they feel at the moment.

The following tips can help you cope better with your loved ones emotional withdrawal period and provide the support he/she needs:

#1: Learn more about sleeping pill withdrawal and what it means. The more knowledgeable you are about sleeping pill withdrawal, the better prepared you’ll be to cope with its stages. This will also help you become more understanding and accepting of your loved ones experience.

#2: Listen actively. Sleeping pill withdrawal can be overwhelming and your loved one may be traumatized. Talking has a therapeutic influence and some people especially those undergoing sleeping pill detox feel the need to talk about their experience. The most important thing you should remember is to listen actively and without judgement. Keep in mind that non-verbal communication can be powerful and your warmth acceptance, expression, tone of your voice and body language can sometimes have even greater impact than your words.

#3: Release expectations. Accept that you have no control over the recovery process so that you don’t feel responsible nor pressured. Each sleeping pill withdrawal experience is unique and unpredictable. You may have to provide support for a much longer period than you anticipated.

By giving adequate and appropriate support you are making a valuable and positive difference to your loved one’s withdrawal experience. Your contribution is one of the most important factors in determining how well your loved one copes with sleeping pill withdrawal. If you feel the need to consult our professionals about what other steps to take during a loved one’s withdrawal experience call us.

Overcome Fear Of Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

In order to overcome your fears you need to be willing to face them. This means launching an investigation into exactly what it is you are afraid of. If you are afraid of going through withdrawal…take hope. And here’s our number one suggestion for you: Take control of your thoughts.

Use relaxation techniques to prevent fear from turning to panic. Stress reduction techniques are a great prevention tool for dealing with turmoil in life. One such technique is mindfulness meditation. This is a wonderful technique that allows people to observe their fears objectively. This technique teaches you to view fear just as a reaction in your mind which can be controlled.

When you face your fears, you’re not only removing a big stumbling block in front of you, but preparing yourself to do the things that you are capable of doing and usually don’t do because of fear. If you’re addicted to sleeping pill and want to quit, but scared of what will happen during withdrawal, all you need is few seconds of courage, pick up the phone and call us for a guided medical sleeping pill detox. You will have caring professionals to back you up as you take your first sober steps.


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Reference sources: The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction
Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.
NCBI: Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives? 
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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