When you’re taking sleeping pills for insomnia, it is important to know how long the drug remains in your system to avoid dangerous and even life-threatening complications from combining more than one drug or drinking alcohol while under the influence of a sleeping pill.
Sleeping pills decrease the function of your Central Nervous System (CNS). Your Central Nervous System plays key roles that keep you alive including beating your heart and breathing for you. Even though you can consciously decide to breathe and exert control over your breathing, most of the time your breathing is accomplished without thought – an automatic function that is critical while you’re asleep.
One way to measure how long drugs will remain in your system, a measurement referred to as the half-life is determined. The half life of a drug refers to the length of time it takes natural bodily processes to remove the drug from the blood plasma in your body. Your liver and intestinal processes are important organs when it comes to cleansing drugs from the body. If your liver or kidney function is impaired due to diseases or advancing age, it can take longer to eliminate the influence of the drugs. Age and genetics can also influence how long it takes drugs to be out of your system.
Another factor that influences how long it takes to remove the influence of a drug from the body must also consider whether or not the drug accumulates in the tissues through a variety of processes that keep the drugs in the body longer. If the drug binds to proteins, active metabolites, or via receptor interactions, rather than just being in the blood, its effects can last longer.
The following factors influence how long sleeping pills last in your system:
- The active ingredient in the drug
- The half-life of the drug
- How long you’ve been taking the medication
- How much of the drug you take
If you’ve noticed that when you take pain medicine you don’t need a second dose as soon as expected, your body may process and eliminate the drug slower than average.
Multiply the half-life by five to get a good estimate of how long the drug will be in your system.
- 0.1 Hypnotics (non-benzodiazepine)
- 0.2 Benzodiazepines
- 0.3 Barbiturates
- 0.4 Anti-depressants
- 0.5 Melatonin Receptor Agonist
- 0.6 Serotonin Antagonist and Reuptake Inhibitor
- 0.7 Selective, Dual Orexin Receptor Antagonist
- 1 How Long do Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills last in your system?
- 2 Over-the-Counter Supplements that Aid Sleep
- 3 Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
- 4 Dangers of under estimating how long sleeping pills last in your System
- 5 Behaviors to Avoid when Sleeping Pills are in your System
Hypnotics are prescribed to treat insomnia including trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
Hypnotics work by binding to GABA receptors in the brain to induce sleepiness. The half life varies between .45 – 6.5 hours. With most Hypnotics, the drug is out of your system within 24 hours. However, this can be sped up or slowed down as the result of interactions with other drugs. For example, erythromycin increases the absorption rate and extends its half-life. Other drugs, such as Nefazodone, slows metabolism and prolongs the sedation effects of the drug.
Alcohol should be avoided when Hypnotics are taken as it can cause dangerous interactions.
Eszopiclone has a half-life of between .45 and 1.3 hours which means it should be metabolized during a normal night’s sleep. Unless there are other drugs affecting metabolism, a full night’s sleep of 7 – 8 hours should eliminate the risk of being groggy the next day.
Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Zolpimist, Intermezzo)
Zolpidem has a half-life of about two hours. The drug should be out of your system within 10 – 12 hours. The FDA cautions patients not to drive the day after taking Ambien and to only take it at the beginning of the sleep period – not in the middle of the night when you’re having difficulties going to sleep.
Zopiclone has the longest half-life of the hypnotics, taking between 3.5 – 6.5 hours to metabolize. The average half-life is five hours which means it will take slightly longer than 24 hours to be out of the body.
Zaleplon is absorbed quickly and has a half-life of only 1 – 1.5 hours, which means it will be metabolized out of your system within 5 – 7.5 hours. This allows it to be used in the middle of the night when sleep won’t come as long as no sleeping aids were used at bedtime and the patient hasn’t been drinking.
Zaleplon can have adverse cognitive effects on the elderly and is not recommended for use other than in short-term acute episodes of insomnia.
Benzodiazepines are another sleep aid that binds to GABA receptors in the brain to treat insomnia.
The half-life of benzodiazepines has a broad range from 1.5 hours to 56 hours. Longer half-lives are helpful for treating undesired sleep behaviors such as sleep walking and night terrors, but they increase the risk of being impaired the next day.
Alcohol should be avoided when benzodiazepines are taken as it can cause dangerous interactions.
Triazolam, Quazepam, and Flurazepam hydrochloride are metabolized the fastest of all the benzodiazepines.
Triazolam has a half-life that ranges from 1.5 – 5.5 hours so it should be fully metabolized within 27.5 hours.
Quazepam has the shortest half-life of 1.75 hours which minimizes next day sleepiness because the drug will be removed from the patient’s system within 9 hours.
Flurazepam hydrochloride (Dalmane)
Flurazepam’s half-life is 2.3 hours, eliminating the drug from the body within 11.5 hours.
Alprazolam, Lorazepam, Estazolam, and Temazepam all have a half-life of about ½ a day, which means it takes about 2½ days for the drugs to metabolize out of your system. The health of the patient can affect the amount of time it takes to metabolize the drug.
The half-life of Alprazolam is 11.2 hours.
Lorazepam (Ativan, Lorazepam Intensol)
The half-life of Lorazepam Intensol is about 18 hours for Lorazepam and only 12 hours for Atian. Ativan takes about 2.5 days to metabolize and Lorazepam Intensol takes 3.75 days.
Estazolam has significant variation in the range it takes to eliminate the drug from the body, from a minimum half-life of 8 hours to a maximum of 31 hours. The average half-life is 19 hours.
Temazepam (Normison, Restoril)
Temazepam causes metabolites to form that have a half-life of 10 hours. It takes a total half-life of 12 hours to form the metabolites and reach their half-life, making it take 2.5 days to fully metabolize the drug.
The final four benzodiazepines, Chlordiazepoxide, Clonazepam, Clorazepic acid, and Diazepam have half-lifes that are considerably longer.
Chlordiazepoxide creates metabolites with a half-life of 36 – 200 hours. The half-life of chlordiazepoxide itself is 5 – 30 hours. The effects can last nearly six weeks.
The half-life of Clonazepam is 30 – 40 hours which means it can take between six and more than eight days for a single dose to fully leave your body.
Clorazepic acid (Tranxene)
Clorazepic acid has a half-life of 40 – 50 hours. It takes a minimum of 8 days and can take almost 11 days to metabolize out of the system.
Another long acting drug, diazepam’s half-life ranges between 30 – 56 hours, with some reports of an 80-hour half-life for Valium.
Barbiturates suppress the Central Nervous System (CNS) which helps patients go to sleep. Like all CNS depressants, avoiding consumption of any alcohol and other CNS suppressants is important for avoiding adverse effects.
Butabrabital’s half-life averages 100 hours which means it takes an average of 20 days for it to be fully removed from the system.
The half-life of Mephobarbital is not yet known. The drug continues acting for up to 16 hours which means the half-life is probably more than ½ a day.
Pentobarbital Sodium (Nembutal)
The half-life of this drug, the same drug that is most frequently used to euthanize dogs, is between 15 – 50 hours. It takes at least 3 days and up to twenty for the drug to be metabolized out of the system.
Seconal (Seconal Sodium)
The half-life of Seconal averages 28 hours, with a range between 15 and 40 hours which equates to more than 3 days to 16 days.
Anti-depressants bind to receptors in the brain (acetylcholine and sedating). The half-life is not known.
This anti-depressant helps people who have trouble staying asleep. Its half-life is 15 hours (doxepin) and 31 hours (nordoxepin). Overall, it takes between 3 days and nearly 7 days to metabolize Silenor out of the system.
Melatonin Receptor Agonist
This expensive drug for blind people has a half-life between .9 and 1.7 hours, which means it will be out of the system after a normal nights’ sleep.
The relative fast half-life, between 2- 5 hours with an average of 2.6, means that the drug is fully out of the system within 13 hours.
Serotonin Antagonist and Reuptake Inhibitor
With a half-life between 10 – 12 hours, it takes about 2.5 days for Trazodone to metabolize out of the patient’s system.
Selective, Dual Orexin Receptor Antagonist
Suvorexant’s 12-hour half-life means it takes 3 days to eliminate the drug from the patient’s system.
How Long do Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills last in your system?
Over-the-counter sleep medicines can be drugs, supplements, or herbs. The active ingredient in drugs is usually doxylamine succinate or diphenhydramine. Both of them are antihistamines with a side effect of making users drowsy.
There are three main types of over-the-counter sleeping aids, all of them can cause drowsiness that extends into the next day as well as a hungover type feeling.
Diphenhydramine (Compoz, Nytol, Sominex, Benadryl, and Sleepinal)
Diphenhydramine and Naproxen Sodium (Aleve PM)
Diphenhydramine plus Acetaminophen (Tylenol PM, Aspirin-Free Anacin PM)
Diphenhydramine has a half-life that ranges between 3.4 and 9.3 hours, with an average of 4.3 hours which equates to almost a full day.
Doxylamine Succinate, Acetaminophen, plus 10% alcohol (NyQuil)
Doxylamine (Nighttime Sleep Aid, Unisom Sleep Tabs)
Doxylamine’s half-life is 10 hours which means it takes slightly more than two days to metabolize it fully from your system.
Over-the-Counter Supplements that Aid Sleep
Supplements include hormones and amino acids that occur naturally in the body. It is important to point out that natural substances can be problematic in large doses. Natural is often promoted as safe but that is a way that marketers mislead consumers.
Glycine is an important amino acid that can improve sleep. The half-life is .5 – 4 hours which means it will be metabolized out of the body in less than a day.
L-theanine is an amino acid that aids in relaxation. Its half-life ranges between 58 and 74 minutes which means it will metabolize out of the body in about five hours.
Tryptophan is an essential α-amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins that aids serotonin production. Its half-life is very short.
Melatonin is the most commonly used sleep supplement, the human hormone has a half-life of 30 – 50 minutes, it metabolizes out of the system during a normal night’s sleep.
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for bone health that can promote sleep health. The half-life is almost 42 days which means it takes more than 208 days to metabolize out of the body.
Herbs for Insomnia
Herbs are natural ingredients, often made into teas, but also available as supplements that can increase well-being and improve sleep, frequently by decreasing anxiety. It is important to remember that natural does not mean risk-free. Some herbs are associated with adverse side effects, so it is important to learn about any supplements you consider using – even those marketed as natural.
The half-life of chamomile is 12 hours which means it takes 2.5 days for chamomile to fully metabolize. Usually consumed as a tea, an oil can also be used. The apigenin in Chamomile tea has been studied with positive results and is thought to reduce anxiety.
Ginkgo biloba is a natural plant extract that has numerous side effects. The half-life is 4.5 hours, so it takes almost a day for it to be fully metabolized.
Valerian root is used as a natural sleep aid and also has side effects. The half-life is about an hour, so it is fully metabolized in about five hours.
The half-life of lavender is unknown, but its sleep-inducing benefits are well established in the research.
There is some evidence that Lemon balm improves insomnia. Its half-life is six hours. It takes 30-hours to fully metabolize out of their system.
There’s research supporting the use Passion Flower to improve insomnia. Its half-life is also six hours.
Magnolia bark has anti-anxiety and sedative effects which makes it a wonderful natural insomnia treatment for individuals who experience anxiety. The half-life is 1 – 2 hours, so it is out of the body within 5 – 10 hours.
St. John’s Wort
The half-life is 24 hours, so St. John’s Wort remains in the system for up to five days. It helps with insomnia and depression.
Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
It is very important to understand that prescription Hypnotics, Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates, anti-depressants, Serotonin Antagonist and Reuptake Inhibitors, Selective, Dual Orexin Receptor Antagonists, and over-the-counter drugs including Diphenhydramine, and Doxylamine are intended for short-term use.
Long-term solutions for insomnia should incorporate improved sleep hygiene, which can include supplements and herbal sleep aids and, if needed, stress management training that teaches improved habits of thought, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
The consequences of continued reliance on sleeping pills can be dangerous and include disability of death.
Dangers of under estimating how long sleeping pills last in your System
Sleep medicines have dangerous side effects, particularly when combined with alcohol or other drugs that also depress the Central Nervous System. When a drug remains in your system, it is important that you know it may still be having an effect on the way your body functions. If you assume the sleeping pill you took yesterday is out of your system and drink alcohol the next night and opt to use an herbal supplement that induces sleep much the same way the sleeping pill works, you increase the risk of an adverse side effect.
Behaviors to Avoid when Sleeping Pills are in your System
There are a number of problems that can arise related to sleeping pill use. Sleeping pills are powerful drugs that can have numerous adverse side effects. These safety guidelines will help you stay safe:
- Do not use alcohol with sleeping pills or herbal insomnia treatments
- Do not mix sleeping pills and herbal supplements known to increase drowsiness
- Sleeping aids, prescription pills and herbal supplements, are not intended for long-term use. If you need them for more than two weeks, we strongly suggest you adjust your sleep hygiene habits and consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia
- Check drug interactions with prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills you take and supplements
- Do not drive or operate dangerous machinery when you’re under the influence of sleep medications or herbal supplements that induce insomnia
Knowing the half-life of sleep aids you take helps you consider what other substances may be affecting your system before you take more or drink alcohol. We want to help you sleep well and be safe.