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Women appear to be more vulnerable to sleep disturbances compared to men. As a result, women are more likely to take sleeping pills for insomnia — and it's important to be aware of the fact that sleep medications can act differently across genders.

A 2016 review published in Current Sleep Medicine Reports highlighted the fact that two medications commonly used to treat sleep disorders act differently in women compared to men.

The effect of zolpidem on women

Zolpidem is a sedative designed to treat insomnia. The drug comes in four formulations:

  1. Immediate-release tablet (Ambien)
  2. Controlled-release tablet (Ambien CR)
  3. Sublingual dissolvable tablet (Edular)
  4. Oral inhaler (Zolpimist)

It has been clinically proven that women eliminate zolpidem from their bodies more slowly than men. As a result, the  effects of zolpidem are stronger for women and the chance of an adverse side-effect is greater  — regardless of the formulation used.

This finding led to the U.S. FDA issuing a Safety Announcement in 2013 that urged health care professionals to half the recommended dose of all four formulations when prescribing them to women.

The effect of modafinil (Provigil) and armodafinil (Nuvigil) on women

Modafinil and armodafinil are used to promote wakefulness. These drugs are commonly prescribed to treat excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

Modafinil and armodafinil have also been found to work differently in women compared to men. Women who take these drugs have been found to have higher concentrations in their blood even when taking the same dose as men and they  may reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraception. 

Both drugs now carry warnings about the potential interaction between these medications and hormonal birth control.

Using sleeping pills to treat insomnia

Sleeping pills can provide insomnia relief over the short-term. However, they are not a cure — because they do not treat the root cause of insomnia.

If you want to improve your sleep without sleeping pills, look into cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI). CBTI has been endorsed as the best insomnia treatment and it works by addressing the incorrect thoughts and behaviors that are the cause of most cases of insomnia.

Source: Current Sleep Medicine Reports

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