Over the past few years researchers have become aware of an alarming statistic: Nearly nine million US adults are using prescription sleeping pills to counteract insomnia or poor sleep, according to the first government study of its kind from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC report is based on interviews with about 17,000 US adults from 2005 to 2010. Although the survey covers adults of all ages, a breakdown shows that the majority of these users are educated white women over the age of 50.
According to the report, even more alarming is that fact that overall prescription drug use has risen from about 3.3 to 4.3 percent from the period beginning in 2003-2006 to the more recent period of 2007-2010. 
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, a sleeping pill might be effective, at least in the short-term. But there are side effects, some of which can be serious and even dangerous. It's important to have a complete understanding about how sleeping pills work and what the effects are on your body before you decide to take an form of sedative.
1 - You can get sick or become addicted
Most pills designed to help you sleep are considered "sedative hypnotics." These are a specific class of drugs designed to help induce or maintain sleep. The most popular sedative hypnotics are barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and some various hypnotics.
Barbiturates cause sedation by depressing the central nervous system. They are available as short- or long-acting and are usually recommended for use as an anesthesia.
Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications such as Valium, Librium, Xanax, or Ativan. They help people sleep by increasing drowsiness, but are usually prescribed short-term as they are potentially addictive.
Newer medications on the market can help reduce the amount of time that it takes you to fall asleep. These include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. These medications work quickly to increase drowsiness and sleep and are less likely to become habit-forming than benzodiazepines. However, some of these can have harmful side effects  including:
Burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
Mental slowing or problems with attention or memory
Weakness, dizziness or daytime drowsiness
Constipation or diarrhea
Heartburn or stomach pain and tenderness
Dry mouth or throat
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2 - You can have increased mental problems
One of the most serious risks when taking sleeping pills is their effect on behavior and memory. Sleeping pills act on the chemistry of the brain and can cause numerous changes in our brain functions and behaviors. Problems of aggressiveness, hallucinations, nervousness, confusion, memory impairment, and irritability can often occur along with increased depression, including thoughts of suicide. 
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3 - You can be allergic to pills
Some people can have allergic reactions when taking sleeping pills and should avoid them entirely. Consult your doctor or health care professional at the first sign of any of these serious side effects:
Shortness of breath or hoarseness
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
Blurred vision or any other problems with your sight
Rash or itching
Nausea or vomiting
4 - You may sleepwalk
Another potential harmful side effect of sleeping pills in some people is parasomnia. A parasomnia is an action or behavior that occurs during the night and that you have no control over, such as sleepwalking. When you experience a parasomnia, you’re unaware of whatever you do or what happens as a consequence.
Parasomnias may include making phone calls, having sex, or sleep eating while in a state of sleep. Sleep driving, which is operating a car while not being completely awake, can also be another serious side effect of taking sleeping pills. Parasomnias, although rare, are very difficult to detect after taking the medication. 
5 - Mixing with alcohol can be deadly
The combination of mixing alcohol and sleeping pills can have extremely hazardous results and can even be fatal. Alcohol increases the sedative effects of sleeping pills, depresses parts of the brain and can cause severe drowsiness and dizziness, increasing the risk of falling or having an injury while walking or driving a car. There are even warnings required by law on all sleeping pill bottles against using alcohol when taking any form of sedative. 
Contraindications - or when NOT to take sleeping pills
Sleeping pills, either prescription or nonprescription, may not be safe if you’re an older adult, pregnant or breastfeeding. Sleeping pills can also increase the risk of nighttime falls and possible injury to older adults.
Sleeping pills are also not usually recommended for people with high blood pressure, kidney disease or a history of seizures. In addition, sleeping pills may interact with other medications and have unexpected effects. Following your doctor’s advice is always the recommended procedure whenever considering taking any form of sedative.
Are there other, viable options for insomnia?
If you have regular trouble falling or staying asleep at night, seeing your doctor or healthcare professional is usually recommended, especially in severe cases. Sometimes there can be an underlying medical or sleep disorder that can be found and treated by a professional which is usually a much more effective approach than simply trying to just treat the symptoms of insomnia alone.
Generally the first course of action when you’re having trouble sleeping is to make some behavior changes. These should include avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, sleeping on a regular schedule, exercising regularly, and avoiding daytime naps. Also, keeping stress in check is likely to help you get the sleep you need at night.Instead of sleeping pills, many experts recommend taking the natural hormone melatonin. Melatonin tells the brain to prepare for sleep and can help the body shift its internal clock so that sleep occurs more naturally. If you’re still concerned about sleeping more soundly, consult your doctor or healthcare professional for a professional recommendation.