They improve sleep-related problems by shortening the time spent in bed before falling asleep, prolonging the sleep time, and, in general, reducing wakefulness.
Like alcohol, benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat insomnia in the short-term (both prescribed and self-medicated), but worsen sleep in the long-term.
While benzodiazepines can put people to sleep (i.e., inhibit NREM stage 1 and 2 sleep), while asleep, the drugs disrupt sleep architecture: decreasing sleep time, delaying time to REM sleep, and decreasing deep slow-wave sleep (the most restorative part of sleep for both energy and mood).
Other drawbacks of hypnotics, including benzodiazepines, are possible tolerance to their effects, rebound insomnia, and reduced slow-wave sleep and a withdrawal period typified by rebound insomnia and a prolonged period of anxiety and agitation.
Many hypnotic drugs are habit-forming and, due to a large number of factors known to disturb the human sleep pattern, a physician may instead recommend changes in the environment before and during sleep, better sleep hygiene, the avoidance of caffeine or other stimulating substances, or behavioral interventions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) before prescribing medication for sleep.
When prescribed, hypnotic medication should be used for the shortest period of time necessary.
Nonbenzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that are very "benzodiazepine-like" in nature.
Nonbenzodiazepines pharmacodynamics are almost entirely the same as benzodiazepine drugs and therefore entail similar benefits, side-effects, and risks.
Off-label sleep remedies are particularly useful when first-line treatment is unsuccessful or deemed unsafe (for example, in patients with a history of substance abuse).
Barbiturates are drugs that act as central nervous system depressants, and can therefore produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to total anesthesia.
Questions have been raised as to whether they disturb sleep architecture.