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Nitrazepam will help you to sleep.

You should take it just before you go to bed.

If you still feel sleepy the next day, do not drive or use tools or machines.

It is important that you do not take these tablets for longer than advised.

Type of medicineBenzodiazepine
Used forInsomnia (sleeping problems)
Available asTablets

Insomnia, or poor sleep, 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.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may 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, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any problems with your breathing, or if you have sleep apnoea (a problem where you stop breathing for short periods at night).
  • If you have ever had a drug or alcohol addiction.
  • If you have severe muscle weakness or a condition called myasthenia gravis.
  • If you have liver or kidney problems.
  • If you have a mental health problem (such as a personality disorder, or if you have episodes of psychosis).
  • If you have porphyria (this is a rare inherited blood disorder).
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about nitrazepam and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from taking it. The most common side-effects are listed for you in the table below.
  • The usual dose is one tablet (5 mg) taken just before going to bed; your dose, however, may 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.
  • Nitrazepam is recommended for a short period of time only - a maximum of four weeks. This is because your body gets used to this medicine quickly, and after this time it is unlikely to have the same effect. Your body can also become dependent on it when it is taken for more than a few weeks, and this can lead to withdrawal symptoms (such as mood changes and headaches) when you then stop taking it.
  • The tablets will make you sleepy. If you still feel sleepy the next day, do not drive or use tools or machines.
  • Do not drink alcohol while you are on nitrazepam. It will increase the risk that you experience side-effects.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check how you are feeling.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with nitrazepam. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Common nitrazepam side-effects - these affect less than 1 in 10 people who take this medicineWhat can I do if I experience this?
Feeling drowsy or dizzyIf this continues the morning after, do not drive or use tools or machines until your reactions have returned to normal
Feeling unsteady or forgetfulLet your doctor know about either of these

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with your other medicines.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • Manufacturer's PIL, Nitrazepam Tablets 5 mg, Actavis UK Ltd, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated November 2010.
  • British National Formulary; 65th Edition (Mar 2013) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
1430 (v24)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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