Xanax is a prescription drug commonly used to treat anxiety, but it may also be used to treat one of the most common health threats in America: sleeplessness. Millions of people in the United States struggle to get the sleep they need. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of Americans don’t get the recommended number of hours of sleep each night.
Sleep problems like insomnia can affect several aspects of your health, including your cognitive functioning and psychological health. Xanax is a benzodiazepine that is used to treat some of the most common mental health issues, such as anxiety and panic disorders. But can it be used to treat sleep disorders and insomnia? Learn more about Xanax for sleep and other alternatives for insomnia.
Xanax is a prescription medication brand containing a substance called alprazolam. Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used for their calming and sedating effects. They are also central nervous system depressants, which refers to their ability to slow down the central nervous system. These effects allow Xanax to be used for several medical purposes. It’s primarily used to treat anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic attacks. People with anxiety disorders often have an overactive nervous system that causes them to experience excessive vigilance, worry, rapid thoughts, and other troublesome symptoms.
Xanax may also be used to treat sleep disorders, especially insomnia. Sleep disorders are extremely common, and several treatment options help combat insomnia. Xanax is a potent depressant that is capable of causing drowsiness, hypnosis, and sedation. This is why it is sometimes used to treat sleep disorders.
Some people use benzodiazepines like Xanax as recreational drugs. As a depressant, Xanax is used to achieve intoxication that’s similar to alcohol. Xanax can cause sedation, inhibition release, euphoric relaxation, and many other effects. Alprazolam is one of the most commonly misused benzodiazepines. Some drug dealers even press their own counterfeit Xanax pills and pass them off as the real thing. Xanax abuse and misuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, addiction, and other health problems. It can also cause a dangerous overdose when used in high doses. It is especially dangerous when it’s mixed with other depressants or opioids.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax works similarly to other depressants, including alcohol. As a central nervous system depressant, it slows activity in the brain and body by bolstering the effects of a natural chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an important neurotransmitter in the brain that’s responsible for rest and relaxation. It’s also important in the facilitation of sleep and anxiety relief. People with anxiety and insomnia may have physiological, psychological, or emotional problems that make their nervous system overactive. Alprazolam works by binding to GABA receptors and making GABA more effective than it would be on its own.
GABA works by opening a channel to negative charges that slow down the electrical impulses that excite your nervous system. Xanax keeps that channel open for longer, which increases GABA’s sedating and calming effects.
Like alcohol, Xanax can also increase the production of dopamine, which is another neurotransmitter tied to reward and motivation. This may increase your mood and create generally positive feelings. However, dopamine is also linked to substance use problems and addiction. Drugs that can become addictive often influence dopamine in the brain. For that reason, it’s important to moderate Xanax use to avoid substance use disorders.
Is Xanax the First-Line Medication for Insomnia?
A first-line medication is one a doctor is likely to prescribe first in response to a particular disorder or disease. For instance, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in (Tylenol), is considered the first-line medication for pain. Xanax, along with other benzodiazepines, is often considered a first-live medication for anxiety and panic disorders, although antidepressants are sometimes used.
However, Xanax is not considered a first-line medication for sleep disorders. There are many options for treating insomnia. The first course of action is to examine sleep hygiene, a term used to describe healthy habits promoting quality sleep. You may also go through behavioral therapies designed to address sleep issues. If medication is needed, several options are available. The most common medication for sleep is zolpidem, which is sold under the brand name Ambien.
Ambien is in a classification of drugs called non-benzodiazepines sedative-hypnotics. They are depressants that are similar to benzodiazepines, but they are generally milder and may not cause effects as potent as drugs like Xanax. However, they can effectively facilitate sleep.
If non-benzodiazepine sleep aids aren’t effective in treating insomnia, you may be prescribed one of several common sleep-inducing benzodiazepines. Estazolam, flurazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), quazepam (Doral), and triazolam (Halcion) are all benzodiazepines that may be used to treat sleep disorders.
Is Xanax an Effective Sleep Aid?
Alprazolam is a potent depressant that can induce feelings of sedation, hypnosis, and fatigue. It can certainly be effective as a sleep aid when it’s taken between 20 and 60 minutes before bedtime. However, it may not be the most effective option for long-term sleep problems. Many benzodiazepines are avoided when a long-term solution is needed. Benzos can create a chemical dependence after a few weeks of consistent use.
Plus, alprazolam’s effects on sleep present another problem: tolerance. A 1987 sleep study investigated the drug’s potential as a sleep medication and found that it was effective for the first few nights, but it was less effective after a week of use. This is because your body can build up a tolerance to the drug’s sedating effects after consistent use.
Xanax also has a half-life of around 11 to 13 hours in immediate-release formulations. The half-life of a drug is how long it takes your body to process it down to half of its original concentration in your bloodstream. The half-life often indicates how long you may feel the effects. The anti-anxiety effects of Xanax can begin to wear off after six hours, but you may feel some effects for longer. When you’re using it as a sleep aid, it could mean feeling groggy or sedated in the morning after taking it. Other sleep aids may be better for avoiding next-day drowsiness.
Why Might Xanax Be Used for Sleep?
Xanax isn’t a first-line option, and it may not be useful for everyone who needs help getting to sleep. But it could be prescribed in some cases. People may respond to medications differently, and there is no medication that is effective for every person. While Xanax isn’t a first-line defense for treating sleep disorders, it may be helpful for people who have tried other options with little success. In many cases, finding the right treatment is a matter of trial and error that you go through with the help of your doctor.
Xanax may also be used to treat sleep problems that are determined to be rooted in anxiety issues or panic attacks. Anxiety disorders and sleep problems often occur at the same time. If you experience symptoms like nervousness, worry, and irritability, it may be hard to get the sleep you need. Addressing an underlying anxiety disorder may help to improve your sleep quality.
Can Xanax Make Sleep Worse?
Xanax is a depressant that can help improve your sleep quality, especially if you have an anxiety disorder. In most circumstances, prescribed use that is recommended by a medical professional will help to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. However, Xanax could make sleep worse if you become dependent on the drug. If you develop a chemical dependence on Xanax, you may not be able to sleep well if you miss a dose or cut back. Because Xanax can also cause you to build up a tolerance to the drug after consistent use, you may need to increase your dose or take other depressants to get to sleep.
Xanax withdrawal can also cause rebounding insomnia, which is when insomnia returns. In some cases, insomnia and anxiety can be worse than before during the withdrawal phase. Withdrawal symptoms are typically temporary, but you may continue to experience sleep problems if you have a history of sleep disorders.
Is Xanax Abused?
Xanax is one of the most commonly misused benzodiazepines and may be among the most commonly abused depressants after alcohol. Xanax can cause tolerance and dependence after a few weeks of regular use. Dependence can increase your risk for substance use problems and addiction. Xanax addiction shares similarities with alcoholism. It can affect many areas of your life, including your health and relationships. Because insomnia and other sleep issues are often chronic problems, long-term use of Xanax to treat insomnia may not be advised by doctors.