NICE has made the following recommendations about the use of zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone to treat insomnia.

  • NICE recommends that doctors should consider using non-medicine treatments, and then, if they think that a hypnotic medicine is the appropriate way to treat severe insomnia that is interfering with normal daily life, they should prescribe one for only short periods of time and strictly according to the licence for the drug.
  • Because there is no firm evidence of differences in the effects of zaleplon, zolpidem, zopiclone and the shorter-acting benzodiazepines, NICE recommends that doctors should prescribe the cheapest drug, taking into account the daily dose required and the cost for each dose.
  • Treatment should only be changed from one of these hypnotics to another if side effects occur that are directly related to the medicine.
  • If treatment with one of these hypnotic medicines does not work, the doctor should not prescribe one of the others.

Amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 came into force on 10 June 2014, which include specification changes for zaleplon and zopiclone. For details, see our medicines evidence commentary.

Your responsibility

The recommendations in this guidance represent the view of NICE, arrived at after careful consideration of the evidence available. When exercising their judgement, health professionals are expected to take this guidance fully into account, alongside the individual needs, preferences and values of their patients. The application of the recommendations in this guidance is at the discretion of health professionals and their individual patients and do not override the responsibility of healthcare professionals to make decisions appropriate to the circumstances of the individual patient, in consultation with the patient and/or their carer or guardian.

Commissioners and/or providers have a responsibility to provide the funding required to enable the guidance to be applied when individual health professionals and their patients wish to use it, in accordance with the NHS Constitution. They should do so in light of their duties to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity and to reduce health inequalities.