Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Should I take Lunesta to help me sleep?

Q. I have chronic problems sleeping. I hear that Lunesta, a sleeping pill, can be taken long-term. Is that true? Do you recommend it?

A. Lunesta (eszopiclone) is the newest member of a class of prescription sleeping pills called nonbenzodiazepines, which includes zolpidem (Ambien) and zaleplon (Sonata)—also known as Z drugs. These drugs have risen rapidly in popularity, overtaking benzodiazepine medications such as lorazepam (Ativan) and temazepam (Restoril). One of the problems with the older benzodiazepine drugs is that people develop tolerance if they're taken for longer than 10 days. If you take them regularly, you may need to keep raising the dose to get the same effect.

Benzodiazapines can also cause rebound insomnia (a recurrence of sleep problems after stopping the drug) and other withdrawal symptoms (for example, nightmares resulting from the drugs' interference with REM sleep, the time when we dream most vividly). Nonbenzodiazepines bind more selectively to sleep-regulating receptors in the brain and disappear more quickly from the body, producing fewer side effects. In particular, they're less likely to cause tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, or rebound insomnia.

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