|Type of medicine||A benzodiazepine|
|Used for||Sleeping problems (insomnia) in adults|
|Available as||Tablets and oral liquid medicine|
Poor sleep (insomnia) is fairly common but does not usually last for long. If you have problems sleeping, it may mean that you have difficulty getting off to sleep, or you may wake up for long periods during the night, or you may wake up too early in the morning. ‘Sleeping tablets’ like nitrazepam are considered a last resort, but are sometimes prescribed for a short period of time to help with a particularly bad spell of insomnia.
Nitrazepam works by affecting the way certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) transmit messages. This has a calming effect which helps you to sleep. It works well in the short term, with one week’s treatment normally being sufficient, although up to three weeks of treatment are sometimes required. If you take it for longer, the medicine can lose its effect (you may become tolerant to the effect) and when you stop it you may develop withdrawal symptoms. You may need to keep taking the medicine to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. This is known as drug dependence.
In addition, you may become addicted to nitrazepam. Addiction is different from dependence. You have an overwhelming craving for a drug, so that you feel compelled to take it even though it is harming you physically or affecting your life and relationships.
Before taking nitrazepam
Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine can only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking nitrazepam it is important that your doctor knows:
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- If you have any breathing problems.
- If you have any problems with the way your liver works, or if you have any problems with the way your kidneys work.
- If you have a mental health problem. This includes conditions such as psychosis, depression, and personality disorders.
- If you have ever had a drug or alcohol addiction.
- If you have a condition causing severe muscle weakness, called myasthenia gravis.
- If you have a rare inherited blood disorder called porphyria.
- If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
- If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.
How to take nitrazepam
- Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer’s printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about nitrazepam, and it will also provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you could experience from taking it.
- The usual dose is 5 mg taken just before going to bed; your dose, however, could be more or less than this. Your doctor may recommend that you take a dose for just a few days, or only on certain days of the week. It is important that you take nitrazepam exactly as your doctor tells you to.
Getting the most from your treatment
- Try to keep any appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check how you are feeling.
- The effects of nitrazepam can last into the following day; please be aware that it is likely to impair your judgement and reactions, and so affect your ability to drive. It is an offence to drive while your reactions are impaired, so do not drive until you know how you react, especially when you first start treatment. Even if your driving ability is not impaired, should you drive, you are advised to carry with you some evidence that the medicine has been prescribed for you – a repeat prescription form or a patient information leaflet from the pack is generally considered suitable.
- Do not drink alcohol while you are on nitrazepam. It will increase the risk of sedative side-effects.
- If you are due to have an operation or any dental treatment, please tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking a benzodiazepine. This is because nitrazepam increases the effects of some anaesthetics.
- Your doctor may recommend that you reduce your dose gradually when it is time to stop taking it. This is to reduce the risk of you experiencing withdrawal effects. Follow carefully any instructions your doctor gives to you.
Can nitrazepam cause problems?
Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the more common ones associated with nitrazepam. The best place to find a full list of the side-effects which can be associated with your medicine, is from the manufacturer’s printed information leaflet supplied with the medicine. Alternatively, you can find an example of a manufacturer’s information leaflet in the reference section below. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.
|Common nitrazepam side-effects (these affect fewer than 1 in 10 people)||What can I do if I experience this?|
|Feeling sleepy or light-headed during the day||Do not drive and do not use tools or machines. Do not drink alcohol|
|Feeling unsteady, weak, forgetful, confused, or aggressive||If any become troublesome, speak with your doctor|
If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.