Z-Drugs are a class of psychoactive drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. They are also sometimes known as nonbenzodiazepines or nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics because they are benzodiazepine-like. These drugs are prescribed for sleep problems. They have a very quick onset of action and help improve sleep quality; however, they do not improve the length of sleep.
The Effects of Z-Drugs on Human Performance and Driving
The National Institute of Health “In the Zzz Zone: The Effects of Z-Drugs on Human Performance and Driving” states that:
The Z-drugs, zolpidem, zopiclone, and zaleplon, were developed as hypnotics with improved pharmacokinetics compared to benzodiazepines, the traditional treatments for insomnia. Their pharmacology and toxicology have been previously reviewed. Zolpidem, zaleplon, and eszopiclone are the three Z-drugs currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat insomnia. Like benzodiazepines, Z-drugs are GABAA receptor agonists; however, their clinically attractive properties include short duration of action, non-disturbance of overall sleep architecture, and diminished residual effects during daytime hours. While they have been studied in the elderly, there is increasing interest in Z-drug effectiveness and residual effects in shift workers, pilots, and military personnel. (NIH)
Z-Drugs were developed as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines, but they come with dangers, including dependence. Z-Drugs are considered controlled substances and are Schedule IV drugs according to the DEA. Schedule IV drugs are listed as low risk for dependence and low potential for abuse.
Z-Drugs Mechanism of Action
Z-Drugs work by slowing down brain activity. They work on the central nervous system and directly affect the GABA receptors. GABA receptors produce natural sedative-like effects, so Z-Drugs enhance the effects of GABA transmission, like benzodiazepines. This slows down activity in the brain and central nervous system and induces sleep. Z-Drugs are great for short-term sleep issues. Due to the risk of abuse and dependence, they should only be prescribed on a short-term basis.
Side Effects of Z-Drugs
Z-Drugs do slow down the central nervous system, so slowed breathing and heart rate can occur. Also, misusing any of these drugs can cause respiratory failure, unconsciousness, and even death. Some of the other complications that z-drugs can cause are sleepwalking nocturnal eating and sensory disturbances. Ambien has been associated with falls in the elderly as well.
More About Side Effects of Z-Drugs
Most people tolerate Z-Drugs well, but they do have some adverse effects. One of the biggest and most disturbing side effects reported with drugs is visual hallucinations. Some people have also reported amnesia and unusual or inappropriate behavior. Some of the other side effects can include:
- Extreme sleepiness
- Loss of balance
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
Some users have reported feeling tired, confused, sluggish, and foggy-headed after taking a z-drug. Ambien can also make symptoms of depression and anxiety worse. And if an individual takes the drug for a long-term period, it can even start causing issues with their sleep (rebound insomnia). Combining z-drugs with alcohol or other benzodiazepines is extremely dangerous. These are all central nervous system depressants, and when they are combined, the risk of respiratory arrest and overdose death is dramatically increased.
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