Effects of the use of hypnotics on cognition

Prog Brain Res. 2011;190:89-103. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53817-8.00005-0.


Hypnotic drugs are intended to induce sedation and promote sleep. As a result, they have deteriorating effects on cognitive performance following intake. Most hypnotics are benzodiazepine receptor agonists which can have effects on memory in addition to their sedative effects. Other sedating drugs, such as histamine H1 antagonists or melatonin agonists, may have less effect on memory and learning. Hypnotics with other mechanisms of action are currently being investigated for efficacy and safety. For patients using hypnotic drugs, the effects on cognition are relevant to the extent that a drug dose affects daytime performance. Use of benzodiazepine hypnotics is associated with increased risk of car accidents and falling. Therefore, most hypnotics are studied to determine whether they produce residual sedation and impairing effects on performance the morning after bedtime use. Experimental studies using a standardized driving test clearly show that some drugs and doses produce severe residual effects, whereas others seem to have no or only minor impairing effects on next-day performance. No hypnotic has been found yet to improve daytime performance. Studies on long-term use of benzodiazepine hypnotics suggest that effects on daytime performance may diminish over time due to tolerance. However, there are also studies showing that performance may improve after discontinuation of chronic benzodiazepine use, which suggests that tolerance may not be complete.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Automobile Driving
  • Benzodiazepines / adverse effects
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / adverse effects
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / adverse effects
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / pharmacology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Sleep / drug effects


  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Benzodiazepines