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Definition: hypnotic drugs from The Columbia Encyclopedia

drugs that induce sleep, sometimes called soporifics. In general, hypnotics are central nervous system depressants. Alcohol, laudanum (see opium), bromide salts, and herbs such as valerian have been used as hypnotics. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed hypnotics. Smaller doses of these same drugs may be used as sedatives.


Summary Article: Hypnotics
from Black's Medical Dictionary, 43rd Edition

These are drugs that induce SLEEP. Before a hypnotic is prescribed, standard care is to establish – and, where possible, treat – the cause of the insomnia (see under SLEEP, DISORDERS OF). Hypnotics are most often needed to help an acutely distressed person (for example, following bereavement), or are requested for those with jet lag, or working unsociable hours.

If requested in states of chronic distress, whether induced by disease or environment, prescribers believe it is especially important to limit use to a short period to prevent undue reliance on them, and to prevent them becoming a means of avoiding the patient's real problem. In many cases, such as chronic depression, overwork, and alcohol abuse, hypnotics are inappropriate, and some form of counselling or other psychological therapy is preferable.

Hypnotics are generally best avoided, if possible, in the elderly (confusion is a common problem), and in children. The most commonly used hypnotics are the BENZODIAZEPINES such as nitrazepam and temazepam; chloral derivatives, while safer for the few children who merit them, are generally second choice and should be used in the lowest possible dose for the minimum period. Zolpidem and zopiclone are two drugs similar to the benzodiazepines, indicated for short-term treatment of insomnia in the elderly. Adverse effects include confusion, incoordination and unsteadiness, and falls have been reported

Side-effects include daytime drowsiness – which may interfere with driving and other skilled tasks; insomnia following withdrawal, especially after prolonged use, is a hazard. Occasionally benzodiazepines will trigger hostility and aggression.

Copyright © A & C Black Publishers Ltd

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