Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – risks and side effects

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – knowing when to take sleep aids

When you have trouble sleeping, it can be the cause of many either stress, work, or the kids. When sleep is a challenge, it is tempting to turn to sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids for relief. And you may get your sleep for a short period of time, but if sleep is a regular problem it may be a red flag for something else is wrong. It could simply be too much caffeine, viewing TV, your phone, or another screen viewing late at night. It may be a symptom of underlying medical issues, either way, it is best to consult your doctor before you resort to sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids.

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Sleep aids are for short term use

It is important to weigh the benefits against the risks of using medications for sleep. In general, sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids are most effective when used sparingly for short-term situations, such as traveling across different time-zone or recovering from a medical procedure. If you choose to take sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids over a long period of time, it is best to use only on an infrequent, or as-needed basis to avoid dependence and tolerance.

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Side effects and risks of sleeping pills

All prescription sleeping pills have side effects, which vary depending on the specific drug, the dosage, and how long the drug lasts in your system.

Common side effects include:

  • Prolong drowsiness the next day
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Trouble concentration
  • Unsteadiness
  • Rebound insomnia

Some serious side effects of sleeping pills

Sedative-hypnotic medications such as:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Non-benzodiazepines

It can cause allergic reactions, facial swelling, sleepwalking, sleep-driving, and sleep-eating in the middle of the night with no memory of the event. If you experience any unusual sleep-related behavior consult your doctor immediately.

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – common OTC sleep medications include:

Standard over-the-counter sleeping pills rely on antihistamines as their primary active ingredient to promote drowsiness. Common ingredients are:

  • Diphenhydramine like Nytol, Sominex, Sleepinal, Compoz
  • Doxylamine brand names such as Unisom, Nighttime sleep aid

Some other OTC sleep aids combine antihistamines with the pain reliever Acetaminophen which is found in brands such as Tylenol PM and Aspirin-free Anacin PM, other OTC sleep aids such as NyQuil, combine antihistamines with alcohol.

The downside with an antihistamine is that their sedating properties often last well into the following day, leading a next-day hangover effect. When used in the long term, they can also cause forgetfulness and headaches. Because of these issues, sleep experts advise against regular use of these types of sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids.

Common side effects of OTC sleep aids:

  • Moderate to severe drowsiness the following day
  • Dizziness and forgetfulness
  • Constipation and urinary retention
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Nausea

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Herbal and dietary sleep supplements that may help

When going to the drugstore you will see dozens of so-called natural sleep supplements. The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements for safety, quality effectiveness or even truth in labeling, so it is entirely up to you to do your due diligence. Although the evidence is mixed, the following supplements have the most research back-up as insomnia treatments.

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Herbal sleep aid #1 – Valerian root

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 Valerian is a sedating herb that has been used since the second century A.D. to treat insomnia and anxiety. IT is believed to work by increasing brain levels of the calming chemical GABA. Although the use of Valerian for insomnia has not been extensively studied, the research shows promising effects and it is generally safe and non-habit forming. It works best when taken daily for two or more weeks.

Here are some of Valerian root supplements that you can purchase at any health stores and pharmacies, like over-the-counter medicines.

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Herbal aid #2 – Melatonin

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Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that increases at night. It is triggered by darkness and its levels remain elevated throughout the night until suppressed by the light of morning. Melatonin does not appear to be particularly effective for treating most sleep disorders, it can help sleep problems caused by jetlag, shift work, and stress-related issues that are causing you sleepless nights. Simple exposure to light at the right time, however, might be just as effective. If you take Melatonin, be aware that it can interfere with certain blood pressure and diabetes medications. It is best to stick with low doses – 1 to 3 milligrams for most people – to minimize side effects and next-day drowsiness.

Here are some of the Melatonin supplements that you can purchase at any health stores and pharmacies

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Herbal sleep  aid #3 – Chamomile

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Many people drink chamomile tea for its gentle sedative properties, although it may cause allergic reactions in those with plant or pollen allergies. To get the full sleep-promoting benefit of chamomile, bring water to boil then add 2 to 3 tea bags, cover with a lid and brew for 10 minutes.

Here are some trusted brands that offer Chamomile sleep aids

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Herbal sleep #4 – Tryptophan

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Tryptophan is a basic amino acid used in the formation of the chemical messenger serotonin, a substance in the brain that helps tell your body to sleep. L-tryptophan is a common byproduct of tryptophan, which the body changes into serotonin. Some studies have shown the L-tryptophan can help people fall asleep faster. However, results have been inconsistent.

Here is a list of Tryptophan supplements

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – Herbal sleep #5 – Kava

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Kava has been shown to improve sleep in people with stress-related insomnia. However, Kava can cause liver damage, so it isn’t recommended unless taken under close medical supervision.

Sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids – tips for safer use of sleeping pills

If you decide to try sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids keep the following safety guidelines in mind.

  • Never mix sleeping pills with alcohol or other sedative drugs
  • Only take sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids if you have enough time for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
  • Don’t take a second dose in the middle of the night or if the pills haven’t taken effect.
  • Start with the lowest recommended dose.
  • Avoid frequent use
  • Never drive or operate any machinery after taking sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids

Carefully read the package insert that comes with your medication. Pay careful attention to the potential side effects and drug interactions. Many common sleeping pills or OTC sleep aids, including antidepressants and antibiotics, can cause dangerous interactions with both prescription sleeping pills and OTC sleep aids. Some Sleeping pills, certain food must also be avoided such as grapefruit or grapefruit juice.