Does Medicare cover sleeping pills?

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/10/2018

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The National Institutes of Health suggests that about half of all seniors have trouble falling or staying asleep. If you’ve talked to your doctor about insomnia, and he or she has ruled out an underlying medical cause, you may be a candidate for over the counter sleeping pills or prescription sleeping pills. Read on to learn how Medicare handles insomnia treatment with sleeping pills.

What are prescription sleeping pills used for?

According to an article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, most prescription sleeping pills fall into one of two classes of medication: benzodiazepines and newer non-benzodiazepine hypnotics such as zolpidem and zopiclone, also known as “Z-drugs.”

The Mayo Clinic says benzodiazepine prescription sleeping pills work by slowing down the central nervous system which may cause worrisome side effects for seniors. The non-benzodiazepine prescription sleeping pills tend to have fewer potentially dangerous side effects.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about the side effects of prescription sleeping pills, because they may cause difficulties even after you wake up in the morning. According to the Mayo Clinic, common side effects from prescription sleeping pills include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness, which may contribute to the risk of fall.
  • Daytime drowsiness.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea and diarrhea.
  • Daytime memory problems.
  • Unusual sleep behaviors, such as “sleep eating” or even “sleep driving.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that many prescription sleeping pills have the potential to cause dependence, so you should never take them for longer than your doctor recommends. Never mix alcohol with your sleep medication.

Many prescription sleeping pills are meant to be used for just a week or so at a time, and you should stop using them carefully, with your doctor’s supervision. The Mayo Clinic says that rebound insomnia may occur for a few days once you stop taking your prescription sleeping pills.

What are over the counter sleeping pills?

Over the counter sleeping pills are medications you can buy without a prescription that may help you feel drowsy and fall asleep easier. According to the Mayo Clinic, the four most common over the counter sleeping pills are:

  • Diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine an antihistamine, also known as Benadryl. It is also the active ingredient in Unisom SleepGels.
  • Doxylamine succinate. Doxylamine succinate is also an antihistamine; it’s the active ingredient in Unisom SleepTabs.
  • Melatonin. Melatonin is actually a naturally occurring hormone that your body uses to regulate sleep-wake cycles.
  • Valerian. Valerian is a plant extract sold as a nutritional supplement that some studies suggest may help you fall asleep. Of all the over the counter sleeping pills above, valerian is the only one not known to cause side effects.

Although you can buy over the counter sleeping pills without seeing a doctor, it’s a good idea to discuss any sleep medications you are planning to take with your health care provider. Over the counter sleeping pills are not without potential side effects, either. The Mayo Clinic says that over the counter sleeping pills may cause daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, rapid heart rate, blurred vision, constipation, and nausea.

Mayo Clinic also cautions seniors against using over the counter sleeping pills containing an antihistamine, since these may increase the risk for dementia.

How does Medicare cover sleeping pills?

There is generally no coverage for prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills under Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B). If you are enrolled in a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan, your plan should cover most prescription sleeping pills your doctor prescribes.

When it comes to over the counter sleeping pills, your coverage options are limited. Medicare Part D generally doesn’t cover over the counter medications. Some Medicare Advantage plans with Part D prescription drug coverage do offer discounts for over the counter medications such as sleep aids. However, it’s important to read your plan details carefully to see whether this benefit is included and if there are any restrictions.

Need more information about sleeping pills and Medicare?

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