Healthcare in India


Sedative : A drug that subdues excitement and clams the subject without inducting sleep, though drowsiness may be produced. Sedation refers to decreased responsiveness to any level of stimulation; is   associated with some decrease in motor activity and ideation.
Hypnotic : A drug that induces and/or maintains sleep, similar to normal arousable sleep. This is not to be confused with ‘hypnosis’ meaning a trans-like state in which the subject becomes passive and highly suggestible.
The sedatives and hypnotics are more or less general CNS depressants with somewhat differing time-action and dose-action relationships. Those with quicker onset, shorter duration and steeper dose-response curves are preferred as hypnotics while more slowly acting drugs with flatter dose-response curves are employed as sedatives. However, there is considerable overlap; a hypnotic at lower dose may act as sedative. Thus, sedation-hypnosis-general anaesthesia may be regarded as increasing grades of CNS depression. Hypnotics given in high doses can produce general anaesthesia. However benzodiazepines (BZDs) cannot be considered nonselective or general CNS depressants like barbiturates and others.
Treatment of insomnia is the most important use of this class of drugs.
Alcohol and opium have been the oldest hypnotics and continue to be used for this purpose as self-medication by people. Bromides introduced in 1857 are now obsolete, so are chloral hydrate (1869) and paraldehyde (1882). Fischer and von mering introduced barbitone in 1903 and phenobarbitone in 1912. Barbiturates reigned supreme till 1960s when benzodiazepines started eroding their position and have now totally replaced them. In the mean time, a number of other sedative-hypnotics were introduced but none was significantly different from barbiturates; all are redundant now. Some new non BZD hypnotics have become available over the past decade.

The duration and pattern of sleep varies considerably among individuals. Age has an important effect on quantity and depth of sleep. It has been recognized t hat sleep is an architectured cyclic process. The different phases of sleep and their characteristics are-
Stage 0 (awake) from lying down to falling asleep and ococasional nocturnal awakenings; constitutes 1-2 % of sleep time. ECG shows a activity when eyes are closed and b activity when eyes are open. Eye movements are irregular or slowly rolling.
Stage 1 (dozing) a activity is interspersed with q waves. Eye movements are reduced but there may be bursts of rolling. Neck muscles relex. Occupies 3-6 % of sleep time.
Stage 2(unequivocal sleep) q waves with interspersed spindles, K complexes can be evoked on sensory stimulation; little eye movement; subjects are easily arousable. This comprises 40-50 % of sleep time.
Stage 3 (deep sleep transition) EEG shows q, d and spindle activity, K complexes can be evoked with strong stimulti only. Eye movements are few; subjects are not easily arousable; comprises 5-8 % of sleep time.
Stage 4 (cerebral sleep) d activity predominates in EEG, K complexes cannot be evoked. Eyes are practically fixed; subjects are difficult to arouse. Night terror may occur at this time. It comprises 10-20 % of sleep time.
During stage 2, 3 and  heart rate, BP and respiration are steady and muscles are relaxed. Stage 3 and 4 together are called slow wave sleep (SWS).
REM sleep (paradoxical sleep) EEG has waves of all frequency, K complexes cannot be elicited. There are marked, irregular and darting eye movements; dreams and nightmares occur, which may be recalled if the subject is aroused. Heart rate and BP fluctuate; respiration is irregular. Muscles are fully relaxed, but irregular body movements occur occasionally. Erection occurs in males. About 20-30 % of sleep time is spent in REM.
Normally stages 0 to 4 and REM occur in succession over a period of 80-100 min. Then stages 1-4 REM are repeated cyclically.
The EEG waves  have been divided into-
a : high amplitude, 8-14 c.p.s. (cycles per second)
b : low amplitude, 13-35 c.p.s.
q : low amplitude, 4-7 c.p.s.
d : high amplitude, 0.5-3 c.p.s.
K complex : deep negative wave followed by positive wave and a few spindles.
1.         Barbiturates

Long acting

Short acting

Ultra-short acting


Butobarbitone Pentobarbitone


2.         Benzodiazepines







3.         Newer nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics
Zopiclone, Zolpidem, Zaleplon
Chloral hydrate, Triclophos, Glutethimide, Methlprilone, Methaqualone and Meprobamate are historical sedative-hypnotics no longer used. They are described in earlier editions of this book.
In addition some antihistaminics (promethazine, diphenhydramine), some anticholinergic (hyoscine) and opioids (morephine, pethidine) have significant sedative action, but are not reliable for treatment of insomnia.

Barbiturates have been popular hypnotics and sedatives of the last century upto 1960s, but are not used now to promote sleep or to calm patients. However, they are described first because they are the prototype of CNS depressants.
Barbiturates are substituted derivantives of barbituric acid (malonyl urea). Barbituric acid as such is not a hypnotic but compounds with alkyl or aryl substitution on C5 are. Replacement of O with S at C2 yields   thiobarbiturates which are more lipid-soluble and more potent. Barbiturates have variable lipid solubility, the more soluble ones are more potent and shorter acting. They are insoluble in water but their sodium salts dissolve yielding highly alkaline solution.


Barbiturates are general depressants for all excitable cells, the CNS is most sensitive where the effect is almost global, but certain areas are more susceptible.
1.         CNS : Barbiturates produce dose-dependent effects :
sedation ® sleep ® anaesthesia ® coma.
Hypnotic dose (100-200 mg of a short acting barbiturate) shortens the time taken to fall asleep and increases sleep duration. The sleep is arousable, but the subject may feel confused and unsteady if waken early. Night awakenings are reduced. REM and stage 3,4 sleep are decreased; REM-NREM sleep cycle is disrupted. The effects on sleep become progressively less marked if the drug is taken every might consecutively. A rebound increase in REM sleep and nightmares is often noted when the drug is discontinued after a few days of use and it takes several days for normal pattern to be restored. Hangover (dizziness, distortions of mood, irritability and lethargy) may occur in the morning after a nightly dose.
Sedative dose (smaller dose of a longer acting barbiturate) given at daytime can produce drowsiness, reduction in anxiety and excitability. However, barbiturates do not have selective antianxiety action. Barbiturates can impair learing, short-term memory and judgment. They have no analgesic action; small doses may even cause hyperalgesia. Euphoria may be experienced by addicts.
Barbiturates have anticonvulsant property. The 5-phenyl substituted agents (phenobarbiotone) have higher anticonvulsant: sedative ration, i.e. they have specific anticonvulsant action independent of general CNS depression.
Higher dose of a barbiturate induces a predominance of slow, high voltage EEG activity. Progressive burst suppression occurs if dose is increased further. Barbiturates depress all areas of the CNS, but the reticular activating system is most sensitive; its depression is primarily responsible for inability to maintain wakefulness.
Mechanism of action : Barbiturates appear to act primarily at the GABA:BZD receptor-Cl- channel complex and potentiate GABAergic inhibition by increasing the lifetime of Cl- channel opening induced by GABA. (contrast BZDs which enhance frequency of Cl-  channel opening). They do not bind to the BZD receptor, but bind to another site (probably the picrotoxin sensitive site) on the same macromolecular complex to exert the GABA-facilitatory action. The barbiturate site appears to be located on a or b subunit, because presence of only these subunits is sufficient for their response. They also enhance BZD binding to its receptor. At high concentrations, Barbiturates directly increase Cl- conductance (GABA-mimetic action; contrast BZDs which have only GABA-facilitatory action) and inhibit Ca2+ dependent release of neurotransmitter. In addition they depress glutamate einduced neuronal depolarization through AMPA receptors. At very high concentrations, barbiturates depress voltage sensitive Na+ and K+ channels as well. A dose-dependent effect on multiple neuronal targets appears to confer the ability to produce any grade of CNS depression.

2.         Other systems
Respiration is depressed by relatively higher doses. Neurogenic, hypercapneic and hypoxic drivers to respiratory center are depressed in succession. Barbiturates donot have selective antitussive action.
CVS : Hypnotic doses of barbiturates produce a slight decrease in BP and heart rate: magnitude of change not differing from that during normal sleep. Toxic doses produce marked fall in BP due to ganglionic blockade, vasomotor center depression and direct decrease in cardiac contractility. Reflex tachycardia can occur, though pressor reflexes are depressed. However, the dose producing cardiac arrest is about 3 times larger than that causing respiratory failure.
Skeletal muscle : Hypnotic doses have little effect but anaesthetic doses reduce muscle contraction by depressing excitability of neuromuscular junction.
Smooth muscles : Tone and motility of bowel is decreased slightly by hypnotic doses; more profoundly during intoxication. Action on bronchial, ureteric, vesical and ulterine muscles is not significant.
Kidney : Barbiturates tend to reduce urine flow by decreasing BP and increasing ADH release. Oliguria attends barbiturate intoxication.


Barbiturates are well absorbed from the g.i. tract. They are widely distributed in the body. The rate of entry into CNS is depenent on lipid solubility. Highly-lipid soluble thiopentone has practically instantaneous entry, while less lipid-soluble ones (pentobarbitone) take longer; phenobarbitone enters very slowly. Plasma protein binding varies with the compound, e.g. thiopentone 75 % pentobarbitone 35 %, phenobarbitone 20 %. Barbiturates cross placlenta and are secreted in milk; can produce effects on the foetus and suckling infant.
Three processes are involved in termination of action of barbiturates: the relative importance of each varies with the compound.

  • Redistribution : It is important in the case of highly lipid-soluble thiopentone and others. After their i.v. injection, consciousness is regained in 6-10 min due to redistribution while the ultimate disposal occurs by metabolism (t ? of elimination phase is 9 hours). Effect of single dose of short acting barbiturate may last just 6-10 hours due to redistribution, while elimination t ? is 12-40 hours.
  • Metabolism : Drugs with intermediate lipid-solubility (short acting barbiturates) are    primarily metabolized in liver by oxidation, dealkylation and conjugation. Their plasma t ? ranges from 12-40 hours.
  • Excretion : Barbiturates with low lipid-solubility (long-acting agents) are significantly excreted unchanged in urine. The t ? of phenobarbitone is 80-120 hours. Alkalinizatio of urine increases ionization and excretion. This is most significant in the case of long-acting agents.

Barbiturates induce hepatic microsomal enzymes and increase the rate of their own metabolism as well as that of many other durgs.


Except for phenobarbitone in epilepsy and thiopentone in anaesthesia, barbiturates are seldom used now. As hypnotic and anxiolytic they have been superseded by BZDs. They are occasionally employed as adjuvants in psychosomatic disorders. The enzyme inducting property of phenobarbitone can be utilized to hasten clearance of congential nonhaemolytic jaundice and kernicterus.
Phenobarbitone 30-60 mg oral OD-TDS; 100-200 mg i.m./i.v.
GARDENAL 30, 60 mg tab, 20 mg/5  ml syr; LUMINAL 30 mg tab; PHENOBARBITONE SOD 200 mg/ml inj.


Side effects : Hangover  was common after the use of barbiturates as hypnotic. ON repeated use they accumulate in the body-produce tolerance and dependence. Mental confusion, impaired performance and traffic accidents may occur.
Idiosyncrasy : In an occasional patient barbiturates produce excitement. This is more common in the elderly. Precipitation of porphyria in susceptible individuals.
Hypersensitivity : Rashes, swelling of eyelids, lips, etc. more common in atopic individuals.
Tolerance and dependance : Both cellular and pharmacokinetic (due to enzyme induction) tolerance develops on repeated use. However, fatal dose is not markedly increased: addicts may present with acute barbiturate intoxication. There is partial cross tolerance with other CNS depressants.
Psychological as well as physical dependance occurs and barbiturates have considerable abuse liability-one of their major disadvantages. Withdrawal symptoms are-excitement, hallucinations, delirium, convulsions; death have occurred.
Acute barbiturate poisoning : Mostly suicidal, some-times accidental; infrequently encountered now due to inavailability of barbiturates. However, the principles of treatment apply to any CNS depressant poisoning.
Manifestations are due to excessive CNS depression-patient is flabby and comatose with shallow and failing respiration, fall in BP and cardiovascular collapse, renal shut down, pulmonary complications, bullous eruptions.
Lethal dose depends on lipid solubility. It is 2-3 g for the more lipid-soluble agents (short-acting barbiturate) and 5-10 g for less lipid-soluble p henobarbitone.
Treatment :

  • Gastric lavage; leave a suspension of activated charcoal in the stomach to prevent absorption of the drug from intestines.
  • Supportive measures: such as, patent airway, assisted respiration, oxygen, maintenance of blood volume by fluid infusion and use of vasopressors-dopamine may be preferred for its renal vasodilating action.
  • Alkaline diuresis: with  sodium bicarbonate 1 meq/kg i.v. with or without mannitol is helpful only in the case of long-acting barbiturates which are eliminated primarily by renal excretion.
  • Haemodialysis and haemoperfusion (through a column of activated charcoal or other adsorbants) is highly effective in removing long-acting as well as short acting barbiturates.

There is no specific antidote for barbiturates. In the past, analeptics like metrazol, bemegride, etc. have been used in an attempt to awaken the patient. This is dangerous, may precipitate convulsions while the patient is still comatose-mortality is increased. The emphasis now is on keeping the patient alive till the poison has been eliminated.


  • Acute intermittent porphyria-barbiturates exacerbate it by inducing microsomal enzymes (d aminolevulinic acid synthetase) and increasing porphyrin synthesis.
  • Liver and kidney disease.
  • Severe pulmonary insufficiency, e.g. emphysema.
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea.
  • Barbiturates induce the metabolism of many drugs and reduce their effectiveness warfarin, steroids (including contraceptives), tolbutamide, griseofulvin, chloramphenicol, theophylline.
  • Additive action with other CNS depressants alcohol, antihistamines, opioids, etc.
  • Sodium valproate increase plasma concentration of phenobarbitone.
  • Phenobarbitone competitively inhibits as well as   induces phenytoin and imipramine metabolism: complex interaction.
  • Phenobarbitone decreases absorption of griseofulvin from the g.i.t.


Chlordiazepoxide and diazepam were introduced around 1960 as antianxiety drugs. Since then this class has proliferated and has gained popularity over barbiturates as hypnotic and sedative as well, because-

  • BZDs have a high therapeutic index. Ingestion of even 20 hypnotic doses does not usually endanger life-there is no loss of consciousness (though amnesia occurs) and patient can be aroused; respiration is not so depressed as to need assistance.
  • Hypnotic doses do not affect respiration or cardiovascular function. Higher doses produce mild respiratory depression and hypotension which is problematic only in patients with respiratory insufficiency and cardiac/haemodynamic abnormality.
  • BZDs have practically no action on other body systems. Only on i.v. injection the BP falls (may be marked in an occasional patient) and cardiac contractility decreases. Fall in BP in case of diazepam and lorazepam is due to reduction in cardiac output while that due to midazolam is due to decrease in peripheral resistance. The coronary arteries dilate on i.v. injection of diazepam.
  • BZDs cause less distortion of sleep architecture; rebound phenomena on discontinuation of regular use are less marked.
  • BZDs do not alter disposition of other drugs by microsomal enzyme induction.
  • They have lower abuse liability:  tolerance is mild, psychological and physical dependance and withdrawal syndrome are less marked.
  • A specific BZD antagonist flumazenil is available which can be used in case of poisoning.

CNS action : The overall action of all BZDs is qualitatively similar, but there are prominent differences in selectivity and time-course of action: different members are used for different purposes. IN contrast to barbiturates, they are not general depressants, but exert relatively selective anxiolytic, hypnotic, muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant effects in different measures. Even when apparently anaesthetic dose of diazepam is administered i.v., some degree of awarness is maintained, though because of anterograde amnesia (interference with establishment of memory trace) the patient does not clearly recollect the events on recovery. The antianxiety action of BZDs is probably not dependent on their sedative property; with chronic administration relief of anxiety is maintained, but drowsiness wanes off due to development of tolerance.
While there are significant differences among different BZDs, in general, they hasten onset of sleep, reduce intermittent awakening and increase total sleep time (specially in those who have a short sleep span). Time spent in stage 2 is increased while that in stage 3 and 4 is decreased. They tend to shorten REM phase, but more REM cycles may occur so that overall effect on REM sleep is less marked than with barbiturates. Nitrazepam has been shown to actually increase REM sleep. Night terrors and body movements during sleep are reduced and stage shifts to stage 1 and 0 are lessened. Most subjects wake up with a feeling of refreshing sleep. Some degree of tolerance develops to the action of BZDs on sleep after repeated nightly use.
BZDs produce centrally mediated skeletal muscle relaxation without impairing voluntary activity. Clonazepam and diazepam have more marked muscle relaxant property. Very high doses depress neuromuscular transmission.
Clonazepam, diazepam, nitrazepam and flurazepam have more prominent anticonvulsant activity than other BZDs. However, their utility in epilesspsy is limited by development of tolerance to the anticonvulsant action.
Given i.v., diazepam (but not other) causes analgesia. In contrast to barbiturates. BZDs do not produce hyperalgesia.
Other actions : Diazepam decreases nocturnal gastric secretion and prevents stress ulcers. BZDs do not significantly affect bowel movement.
Short-lasting coronary dilatation is produced by i.v. diazepam.

Site and mechanism of action

Benzodiazepines act ppreferentially on midbrain ascending reticular formation (which maintains wakefulness) and on limbic system (through and mental functions). Muscle relaxation is produced by a primary medullary site of action and ataxia is due to action on cerebellum.
BZDs act by enhancing presynaptic/postsynaptic inhibition through a specific BZD receptor which is an integral part of the GABAA receptor-Cl- channel complex. The subunits of this complex from a pentameric transmembrane anion channel gated by the primary ligand (GABA), and modulated by secondary ligands which include BZDs. Only the a and b subunits are required for GABA  action, and most likely the binding site for GABA is located on the b subunit, while the a/g subunit interface carrys the BZD binding site. The modulatory BZD receptor increases the frequency of Cl- channel opening induced by submaximal concentrations of GABA. The BZDs also enhance binding of GABA to GABAA receptor. The GABAA antagoist bicuculline antagonizes BZD action in a noncompetitive manner. It is noteworthy that the BZDs do not themselves increase Cl- conductance; have only GABA facilitatory but no GABA mimetic action. This probably explains the lower ceiling CNS depressant effect of BZDs.
The BZD receptor exhibits a considerable degree of constitutive activation. As such, it is capable of fine tuning GABA action in either direction. While the BZD-agonists enhance GABA induced hyperpolarization (due to influx of Cl? ions), and decrease firing rate of neurons, other compounds called BZD-inverse agonists like dimethoxyethyl-carbomethoxy-b carboline (DMCM) inhibit GABA action and are convulsants. The competitive BZD-antagonist flumazenil blocks the sedative action of BZDs as well as the convulsant action of DMCM.
The GABAA-BZD receptor-Cl- channel complex is composed of five a, b, g and in some cases d, e, q or p subunits. Several isoforms of a, b and g subunits have been clonded. The subunit composition of the complex differs at different sites, i.e. there are multiple subtypes of BZD receptor. The (a12 b22 g2) pentamer appears to be the most commonly occurring BZD receptor isoform. Based on studies conducted in genetically mutated mice, it has been suggested that BZD receptor isoforms containing the a1 subunit  are involved in mediating sedative, hypnotic, amnesic and possibly anticonvulsant actions of BZDs, while those containing a2 subunits mediae anxiolytic and muscle relaxant actions. Diazepam has similar affinity for BZD receptor containing different (a1, a2, a3 or a5) subunits, and has broad spectrum action. Receptor inhomogeneity may provide an explanation for the pharmacological diversity of other BZDs. The newer non BZD hypnotics zaleplon, Zolpidem, etc. have high affinity for a1 subunit isoform of BZD receptor and exert selective hypnotics-amnestic effect, but have little antiseizure or muscle relaxant property.
At high concentrations BZDs also potentiate the depressant action of adenosine by blocking its uptake. Certain actions of BZDs are countered by the adenosine antagonist theophylline. Thus, BZDs could be acting through other mechanisms as well.


There are marked pharmackinetic differences among BZDs because they differ in lipidsolubiltiy by > 50 fold. Oral obsorption of some is rapid while that of others is slow. Absorption from i.m. sites is irregular except for lorazepam. Plasma protein binding also varies markedly (flurazepam 10 % to  diazepam 99 %) BZDs are widely distributed in the body. The more lipid soluble members enter brain rapidly and have a two phase plasma concentration decay curve; first due to distribution and later due to elimination. A relatively short duration of action  is obtained with single dose of a drug that is rapidly redistributed, even though it may have a long elimination t ?. Using the elimination t ? alone to predict duration of action may be misleading. However, elimination t ? determines duration of action in case of drugs whose elimination is by far the dominant feature or when the drug is given repeatedly.
Benodiazepines are metabolized in liver by dealkylation and hydroxylation to many metabolites, some of which may be active. The biological effect half-life of these drugs may be much longer than the plasma t ? of the administered compound. Some BZDs (e.g. diazepam) undergo enterohepatic circulation. BZDs and their phase I metabolities are excreted in urine as glucuronide conjugates. BZDs cross placenta and are secreted in milk.
Drugs with a long t ? or those which generate active metabolities cumulate on nightly use; their action may then extend into the next day. Some features of BZDs used as hypnotic are given in table 29.1
BZDs may be categorized according to their pharmacokinetic profile into:

I.          Slow elimination of parent drug or active metabolite

Flurazepam : Produces an active metabolite which has a long t ? residual effects are likely next morning; cumulation occurs on daily ingestion peaking after 3-5 days; suitable for patients who have frequent nocturnal awakening and in whom some day time sedation is acceptable.
NINDRAL, FLURAZ 15 mg cap.

II.        Relatively slow elimination but marked redistribution

Diazepam : Generates active  metabolites (desmethyl-diazepam, oxazepam). On occasional use it is free of residual effects. With regular use accumulation occurs and prolonged anxiolytic effect may be obtained. It is less likely to cause rebound insomnia on discontinuation of chronic use. Withdrawal phenomena are mild.
VALIUM 2, 5, 10 mg tab., 10 mg/2 ml inj., CALMPOSE 5, 10 mg tab, 2 mg/5 ml syr, 10 mg/2 ml inj.
Nitrazepam : Accumulation and residual effects can be avoided only if ingestion is occasional. Good for patients with frequent nocturnal awakenings, when some day time sedation is acceptable.
SEDAMON, HYPNOTEX, NITRAVET 5 mg tab., 5 10 mg cap.

III.       Relatively rapid elimination and marked redistribution

Alprazolam : The primary indication of this intermediate acting BZD is anxiety disorder, but is also being employed as night-time hypnotic with few residual effects the next day. Discontinuation after regular use has produced relatively marked withdrawal phenomena.
Temazepam : It is an intermediate acting BZD, Absorption is slow in case of tablet but fast when used in soft gelatin capsule. Good for sleep onset difficulty, free of residual effects. Accumulation can occur on daily ingestion. Does not produce active metabolites.

IV.       Ultrarapid elimination

Triazolam : Very potent, peak effect occurs in < 1 hour; good for sleep induction but poor for maintaining it. Patient may wake up early in the morning and fel anxious. This may be a withdrawal phenomenon. Rebound insomnia may occur when it is discontinued  after a few nights of use. It does not accumulate on repeated nightly use and no residual effects are noted in the morning. However, higher doses can alter sleep architecture, produce anterograde amnesia and anxiety the following day. Some cases of paranoia and other psychiatric disturbances have been noted-withdrawn from U.K., but is employed in other countries for elderly patients, shift workers, travelers etc.
Midazolam : Extremely rapid absorption-peak in 20 min. It can cause problems in the elderly (ataxia, blackouts); more liable for abuse. Therefore, it is not available now for oral use as a hypnotic. Mainly used as an i.m. premedicant or an i.v. anaesthetic.


Benzodiazepines are relatively safe drugs. Side effects of hypnotic doses are dizziness, vertigo, ataxia, disorientation, amnesia, prolongation of reaction time-impairment of psychomotor skills (should not drive). Hangover is less common, but may be noted if larger doses are used, especially of longer acting drugs. Weakness, blurring of vision, dry mouth and urinary incontinence are sometimes complained. Older individuals are more susceptible to psychomotor side effects. Like any hypnotic, BZDs can aggravate sleep apnoea.
Paradoxical stimulation, irritability and sweating may occur in an occasional patient, especially with flurazepam. Some patients experience increase in nightmares and behavioural alternations, especially with nitrazepam.
Tolerance to the sedative effects develops gradually, but there is little tendency to increase the dose. Cross tolerance to alcohol and other CNS depressants occurs.
The dependance producing liability of BZDs is low. They are seldom abused alone. Drug abusers find them rather bland (except rapidly absorbed midazolam) and prefer other CNS depressants. Withdrawal syndrome is generally mild; may be more intense in case of ultrarapid elimination drugs. Drug-seeking behaviour is not prominent. Anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, malaise, loss of appetite, bad dreams is all that occurs in most cases. Agitation, panic reaction, tremors and delirium are occasional; convulsions are rare.
An earlier report of increased birth defects on use of diazepam during pregnancy has been  disputed. Administration during labour may cause flaccidity and respiratory depression in the neonate.


BZDs  synergise with alcohol and other CNS depressant leading to excessive impairment. Concurrent use with sod, valproate has provoked psychotic symptoms.
Drug interactions due to displacement from protein binding or microsomal enzyme induction are not significant.
Since CYP 3A4 isoenzyme plays important role in metabolism of several BZDs, their action can be prolonged by CYP 3A4 inhibitors like ketoconazole, erythromycin and others. Cimetidine, isoniazid and oral contraceptives also retard BZD metabolism.


Zopiclone : This newer cyclopyrrolone hypnotics is an agonist at a subtype of BZD  receptor involved in the hypnotic action. The effect on sleep resemble those of BZDs, but it does not alter REM sleep and tends to prolong stages 3 and 4. It is reported not to disturb sleep architecture or produce hangover or withdrawal phenomena on discontinuation; but some degree of next morning impairment can occur. Zopiclone has been used to weanoff insomniacs taking regular BZD medication. Its t ? is 5-6 hours.
Zopiclone is indicated for short term (< 2 weeks) treatment of insomnia. Side effects are metallic or bitter after-taste, impaired judgement and alertness, psychological disturbances, dry mouth and rarely dependance. Safety in overdose is similar to BZDs.
ZOPITRAN, ZOPICON, ZOLIUM 7.5 mg tab, one tab at bedtime for not more than 2-4 weeks (elderly 3.75 mg)

Zolpidem : An imidazopyridine which pre-erentially acts on the a1 subunit containing subtype of BZD receptors that are important in mediating the hyponotic effect. Hypnotic effect is pronounced: sleep latency is shortened, sleep duration is prolonged in insomniacs, but anticonvulsant, mscle relaxant and antianxiety effects are not evident. Its advantages are: relative lack of effect on sleep stags (REM suppression is slight) ; minimal residual day time sedation or fading of hypnotic action on repeated nightly use: no/little rebound insomnia on discontinuation; near absense of tolerance or physical dependance and low abuse potential combined with safety in overdose like BZDs.
Zolpidem is nearly completely metabolized in liver (t ? 2 hr), and has short duration of action. It is indicated for short-term (1-2 weeks) sleep onset insomnia. Because the plasma t ? is short, next day sedation is minimal, but morning sedation or prolongation of reaction-time can occur if it is taken late at night. Side effects are few. Even large doses do not markedly depress respiration. Currently, it is one of the most commonly prescribed hypnotics.
Dose : 5-10 mg (max 20 mg) at bedtime; ?  dose in elderly and liver disease patients.
NITREST, ZOLDEM, DEM, 5, 10 mg tabs.
Zaleplon : This is the shortest acting of the newer non-BZD hypnotics that selectively act on a subset of BZD receptors containing the a1 subunit which appear to mediate the hypnotic action. It is appear to mediate the hypnotic action. It is rapidly absorbed; oral bioavailability is ~30 % due to first pass metabolism; is radpidly cleared by hepatic metabolism with a t ? of 1 hour. No active metabolite is produced. As such it is effective only in sleep-onset insomnia; does not prolong total sleep time or reduce the number of awakenings. Because of brevity of action, it can be taken late at night (>4 hour before waking time) without causing morning sedation. Surprisingly, despite very short action, no day-time anxiety or rebound insomnia has been observed. NO tolerance or dependance has been reported and hypnotic effect does not fade on nightly use. However, its use should be limited to 1-2 weeks. The hypnotic efficacy of zaleplon is rated similar to zolpidem. Like the latter, effect on sleep stages and REM sleep are less than that of BZDs.
Dose : 5-10 mg (max 20 mg) at bed time.
ZAPLON, ZALEP, ZASO 5, 10 mg tabs.


Currently, BZDs are one of the most frequently prescribed drugs. They have also been combined with many other categories of drugs with a view to improve efficacy by relieving attendant anxiety.
1.         As hypnotic : A hypnotic should not be casually prescribed for every case of insomnia. Understanding the cause of insomnia and use of a variety of other measures can avoid unnecessary hypnotic medication. When indicated, BZDs or the newer non-BZDs like zolpiem, zaleplon, zopiclone are the hypnotic of choice. A wide range of compounds have been developed to suit specific requirements. Some important points are outlined below:

  • A  hypnotic may be used to shorten sleep latency, to reduce nocturnal awakenings, or to provide anxiolytic nocturnal awakenings, or to provide anxiolytic effect the next day when insomnia is accompanied with marked element of anxiety.
  • In the use of hypnotics, consideration must be given to onset and duration of action of the drug. The most suitable pharmacokinetic profile drug should be chosen for a given case.
  • Imparied performance the next day is largely related to the dose and pharmacokinetic profile of the drug. The next day effects are either due to prolonged sedation (longer acting drugs) or rebound anxiety (shorter acting drugs).
  • Any hypnotic (probably except zolpidem-like drugs) becomes useless after regular use for a few days; may actually be harmful.
  • Though effect of drugs on the EEG stages of sleep, including REM sleep, could be physiologically relevant, most important is the subject’s own assessment of having slept restfully and with no impairment the following day. This probably correlates more closely with effect of the hypnotic on the cyclic alternating pattern (CAP) of sleep.
  • Insomnia arises under a variety of circumstances. It could be a long-term (months-years), short-term (weeks) or transient (a day or two, mostly situational) problem.

Chronic insomnia (> 3 weeks) : Uncertainty exists about the use of hypnotics in this situation. The patient may have a personality disorder, but often there is no specific stress factor; may have used hypnotics for long periods, may be alcoholic or have some somatic disese-gastroesophageal reflux, pain COPD, etc. Measures like aerobic exercise, training at mental relaxation, avoiding anxiety about past/future performance at bedtime, attempting sleep when sleepiness is maximum, avoiding napping at day-time, coffee/alcohol restriction, treatment of concurrent somatic illness, psychotherapy and controlled sleep curtailment may succeed. Good nightly sleep improves the quality of day-time wakefulness. Patients of obstructive sleep apnoea have poor sleep and feel sleepy during the day. All hypnotics aggravate apnoea and are contraindicated.
Intermittent use of a hypnotic, say once every 3 days, may be tried. Risk of tolerance and abuse are maximum among chronic insomniacs. A slowly eliminated drug is preferable because rebound insomnia and withdrawal symptoms are lest marked with these drugs.

Short-term insomnia (3-21 days) :  Emotional problem (occupational stress, bereavement) and physical illness are the usual causes. Patient may have induction difficulty or may be walking up early. Cautious use of low doses of an appropriate drug for the type of sleep disturbance may be made. Generally a hypnotic, free of residual effects should be selected, but when anxiety is a dominant feature, a BZD whose action extends into the next day may be better. Short acting drugs are preferable in the elderly. Intermittent hypnotic use should be limited to 2-3 weeks.
Transient insomnia (1-3 days) : Due to alterations in the circumstances of sleep, e.g. on an overnight train, new place, unusual pattern of work, shift workers, intercontinental travel-jetlag, etc. A rapidly eliminated hypnotic or one with marked distribution is to be preferred to avoid residual effects the next morning. However, night before surgery-a long acting drug is better.

2.         Other uses

    • As anxiolytic and for day-time sedation.
    • As anticonvulsant, especially emergency control of status epilepticus, febrile convulsions, tetanus, etc.
    • As centrally acting muscle relaxant
    • For preanaesthetic medication, i.v. anaesthesia and conscious sedation.
    • Before ECT, electrical cardioversion of arrhythmias, cardiac catheterization, endoscopies, in obstetrics and many minor procedures-diazepam i.v. has gained popularity because of its calming-amnesic- analgesic and muscle relaxant properties and relative safety.
    • Alcohol withdrawal in dependent subjects.
    • Along with analgesics, NSAIDs, spasmolytics, antiulcer and many other drugs.

Fixed dose combinations of sedative/hypnotic/anxiolytic drugs with analgesic-antipyretics has been banned in India.


Flumazenil : It is a BZD analogue which has little intrinsic activity (practically no effect on normal subjects), but competes with BZD agonists as well as inverse agonists for the BZD receptor and reverses their depresent or stimulant effects respectively.
Flumazenil abolishes the hypnogenic, psychomotor, cognitive and EEG effects of BZDs. At higher doses it has some week BZD agonist like as well as  inverse agoinst-like activity in animal models, but these are of no clinical significance.
Flumazenil is absorbed orally; orally; oral bioavailability is ~ 16 %, but it is not used orally. On i.v. injection, action of flumazenil starts in seconds and lasts for 1-2 hr; elimination t ? is 1 hr, due to rapid metabolism.

Uses :
1.         To reverse BZD anaesthesia : patients anaesthetized/sedated with a BZD wakeup, get oriented and regain motor control within 1 min of an i.v. injection of 0.3-1 mg of flumazenil. Resdedation generally occurs after 1-2 hr (more with diazepam than with midazolam): supplemental doses of flumazenil may be given. It allows early discharge of patients after diagnostic procedures and facilitates postanaesthetic management.
2.         BZD overdose : Majority of patients of BZD overdose require only supportive measures like patent airway, maintenance of BP, cardiac and renal function, etc. In addition, flumazenil 0.2 mg/min may be injected i.v. till the patient regains consciousness. Practically all patients intoxicated with a BZD alone respond within 5 min. However, reversal of respiratory depression is incomplete. Flumazenil blocks the hypnotic effect of zolpidem-like non-BZDs as well. In mixed CNS depressant poisoning, whatever sedation is not abolished by 5 mg of flumazenil should be taken to be due to a non-BZD/non-Zolpidem-like depressant. It thus helps in differential diagnosis of such patients.

Adverse effects : Flumazenil is safe and well tolerated.
Agitation, discomfor, tearfulness, anxiety, coldness and withdrawal seizures are the occasional side effects.
Melatonin : It is N-acetyl-5-methoxy tryptamine, the principal hormone of the pineal gland which is secreted at night and has been found to play an important role in entraining (synchronizing) the sleep-wakefulness cycle with the circadian rhythm. Though high doses (80 mg) of melatonin can induce sleep, low doses (2-10 mg) do not depress the CNS, but probably increase the propensity of falling asleep. Started before the flight it has been shown to reduce jet-lag symptoms and to hasten reentrainment with day-night cycle of the new place in intercontinental travelers. Beneficial effects in shift workers and in individuals with delayed sleep phase syndrome have also been reported. It has improved sleep quality in elderly insomniacs and has helped weaning off regular BZD users of their hypnotic. However, melatonin is not a dependable hypnotic; has little effect on latency and duration of sleep, especially in nonelderly insomniacs. Though it is unlikely to have the disadvantages of conventional hypnotics, its long-term safety is not known. Lowering of seizure threshold at night has been related to melatonin peak and psychiatric changes due to melatonin are apprehended. Use may therefore be restricted to treatment of jet-lag, shift workers and elderly hypnotic dependent insomniacs.
Since melatonin secretion declines with age, it has been argued that melatonin supplementation might retard ageing. Though there is no proof of benefit melatonin (2-5 mg/day) is being consumed as a health food in USA and some other countries. It has also been tried in cluster headache. In India it is marketed as a remedy for disturbed biorhythms and degenerative disease.
MELOSET 3 mg tab, ZYTONIN, ETERNX melatonin 3 mg + pyridoxine 10 mg tab; one tab at evening daily.

Ramelteon : It is melatonin receptor agonist introduced in some countries as a novel hypnotic for sleep onset insomnia, that does not produce the usual BZD-like side effects.