Nitrazepam for sleeping problems

Nitrazepam will help you to sleep. You will be prescribed a short course of treatment only.

Take your dose just before you go to bed.

The effects of nitrazepam can last into the following day; it is likely to impair your reactions and your ability to drive. Do not drive and do not use tools or machines while affected.
Type of medicineA benzodiazepine
Used forSleeping problems (insomnia) in adults
Available asTablets 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 you may also become dependent on it (addicted to it).

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 breast-feeding.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 less than 1 in 10 people)What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling sleepy or light-headed during the dayDo not drive and do not use tools or machines. Do not drink alcohol
Feeling unsteady, weak, forgetful, confused, or aggressiveIf 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.

  • 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.

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Further reading & references

Current Version:
Helen Allen
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
1430 (v25)
Last Checked:
19 December 2016
Next Review:
19 December 2019
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The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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.