What is the best hypnotic for use in the elderly?
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Short-acting hypnotics such as zolpidem (Ambien) or zaleplon (Sonata) are the preferred hypnotics in the elderly because of an improved side-effect profile compared with traditional hypnotics such as benzodiazepines (strength of recommendation: B, based on extrapolations of randomized controlled trials). Zolpidem and zaleplon have a quick onset and short duration of action, making them less likely to cause residual sedation, cognitive changes, and falls than benzodiazepines. More comparative clinical trials in the elderly are needed to determine if zolpidem and zaleplon are truly safer than benzodiazepines in this population. Hypnotics should be prescribed on a short-term, intermittent basis as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses any underlying causes of poor sleep.