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a drug or agent that induces sleep
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



any one of a group of drugs that induce sleep. In large doses hypnotics bring on a state of anesthesia. The effect they produce is the result of their inhibitory action on various parts of the central nervous system.

Hypnotics include substances differing in chemical structure, for example, such barbituric-acid derivatives as barbital, phenobarbital, barbital sodium, barbamil, barpental, and cy-clo’oarbital, such piperidine derivatives as Doriden, and such aliphatic compounds as chloral hydrate, carbromal, and bromi-sovalum. Drugs from other pharmacological groups also help normalize sleep; these drugs include sedatives, for example, bromides and valerian preparations, and tranquilizers, for example, diazepam (Seduxen), nitrazepam (Eunoktin), and chlor-diazepozide (Elenium). By diminishing emotional excitement and relieving tension and restlessness, sedatives and tranquilizers facilitate the onset of deep sleep.

Hypnotics are used with a variety of sleep disorders. Preparations with longer action, such as barbital and phenobarbital, are prescribed when an individual can fall asleep easily but soon awakens. When the difficulty consists in falling asleep but subsequent sleep is normal, barbamil, sodium pentobarbital, and Doriden are used. The sleep induced by most hypnotics differs considerably from natural sleep because the physiological succession of sleep periods is disturbed, with certain phases being suppressed. Thus, although barbiturates make it easy to fall asleep, they inhibit paradoxical sleep. If taken for a long time, they inhibit the paradoxical phase only at the start of treatment. Suspending the use of a hypnotic may markedly lengthen paradoxical sleep, intensify insomnia, and bring on nightmares.

The anesthetic action of hypnotics is slight, but they can intensify the effect of such nonnarcotic analgesics as amidopyrine and analgin, which are used with neuralgia. Hypnotics have a tranquilizing effect when used in doses that do not induce sleep. In doses exceeding therapeutic doses they may poison the body, causing the inhibition of breathing, a drop in body temperature and arterial pressure, a slowing of the pulse, and coma. Poisonings caused by hypnotics are treated by a series of measures aimed at maintaining breathing and the activity of the cardiovascular system and rapidly eliminating the drug from the body.

The daily use of long-acting hypnotics causes them to accumulate in the body, resulting in constant sleepiness, mental depression, and motor disorders. Prolonged ingestion decreases the body’s sensitivity to a hypnotic (habituation), which results in an even larger dose being needed to achieve the required effect. Drug dependence may also result.


Zakusov, V. V. Farmakologiia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966. Pages 67–79.
Vein, A. M., and N. A. Vlasov. “Khimiia i farmakologiia sna” (bibliographic survey). Farmakologiia i toksikologiia, 1971, no. 3, pp. 369–80.
Mashkovskii, M. D. Lekarstvennye sredstva, 7th ed., part 1. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A drug which induces sleep. Also known as somnificant; soporific.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
"In a previous study, we found most patients were long-term users of the hypnotic zolpidem tartrate (Ambien) despite recommendations for short-term use, and many were combining it with other central nervous system depressants despite warnings," they wrote.
The prescription of anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics by dentists for outpatients is legally authorized in Brazil.
Benzodiazepines are anxiolytic drugs and may be used as hypnotic for short periods as long term use may cause dependence and increase tolerance.
In 1985, zolpidem was the first imidazopyridine investigated for clinical use as a hypnotic. It has been available in Europe since 1988 and in the US since 1993 as Ambler.
Of note, the top third of hypnotic users in this study were prescribed nearly 93% of all the prescription doses of hypnotics.
Major Finding: The hazard ratios for death in 10,529 patients who received hypnotic prescriptions for poor sleep, compared with 23,676 matched controls with no hypnotic prescription were 3.60 for those prescribed 0.4-18 doses per year, 4.43 for those prescribed 18-132 dose per year, and 5032 for those prescried more than 132 doses per year.
The research is the first to show that eight of the most commonly used hypnotic drugs were associated with increased hazards of mortality and cancer, including the popularly prescribed medications zolpidem (known by the brand name Ambien) and temazepam (also known as Restoril), Dr.
BARCELONA -- Antidepressant use seems to potentiate the need for concomitant hypnotic medications for extended periods, despite national recommendations that the sleeping aids be prescribed for no more than 4 consecutive weeks, a large study in the United Kingdom has determined.
Moffic that a more comprehensive comparison of hypnotics would be useful.
Melatonin, as a supplement, has never been shown to be effective as a hypnotic taken at bedtime.
Overall, if a hypnotic is desired for an older adult, zolpidem and zaleplon are preferred because of their improved side-effect profiles compared with older hypnotics such as benzodiazepines, chloral hydrate, over-the-counter sleep aids, and antidepressants (see Table).