Sleep aids – understanding over-the-counter sleep aids

Sleep aids might help temporarily; however, it is your lifestyle that must change that will help you improve your sleep quality.

If you have followed usual tips for getting enough sleep, but to no success, another option is over-the-counter sleep aids. However, even over-the-counter sleep aids need caution when taken. Here is the thing you need to know before you start popping those pills.

Sleep aids are not a magic cure for insomnia

Over-the-counter sleep aids can be affected on occasional sleepless nights. However, taking it regularly will get your body immune to the pills and the effect it gives and you may feel that the pills are no longer effective. Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines can quickly develop, so the longer you take them the less likely they are to make you sleepy.

In addition, some over-the-counter sleep aids can leave you feeling groggy and tired the next day. This is called the hang-over effect. Medication interactions are possible as well, much remains unknown about the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter sleep aids.

Sleep aids– try these sleep hygiene before you decide on over-the-counter sleep aids

When you have followed certain tips and guide on how to sleep better, there are ways you can actually help yourself before you pop the over-the-counter pills. You can try these sleep hygiene first;

  • Create a regular schedule for sleep, go to bed the same time every night and wake up the same time every morning
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Do not take naps more than 30minutes during the day
  • Exercise regularly but not less than 4 hours before bedtime
  • Avoid blue light before bed, this means to leave the gadgets alone before bedtime
  • Calm your mind and body 2 hours before you plan to go to sleep, like listening to sleep music and drinking calming tea such as Chamomile tea.
  • Prepare your room for sleep not for other activities such as watching TV, or for reading books and scrolling on Facebook.
  • Remove all distractions from your bedroom
  • Check the room temperature; make sure it is not too cold or too hot in your bedroom.

Sleep aids– precautions

sleep aids - precautions

If the above-mentioned techniques do not help, and it has been weeks and sleep remains elusive. This is when you can try the over-the-counter sleep aids. However, there are some things you need to consider first. When considering over-the-counter sleep aids, read these steps below first:

  • Start with talking to your health care provider – Ask your doctor if the sleep aid might interact with other medications or underlying conditions, and what dosage fits best for you.
  • Keep the precautions in mind – Diphenhydramine and doxylamine are not recommended for people who have;


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Closed-angle glaucoma,

Sleep apnea,

Severe liver disease,

Digestive system obstruction or

Urinary retention.

sleep aids, over the counter sleep aids
  • Take it one step at a time – over-the-counter sleep aids are temporary solutions for insomnia. These are not intended to be used for longer than 2 weeks. This should only be a little help to get you back to your healthy sleep schedule and give you a quality sleep that you might not have experienced in a very long time.
  • Avoid alcohol – never mix alcohol and sleep aids, alcohol can increase the sedative effects of the medication.
  • Take the side effects seriously – don’t drive or do other activities that require alertness while taking sleep aids. Make sure that you are at home lying comfortably in your bed when you take over-the-counter sleep aids.

Sleep aids – key ingredients of over-the-counter sleep aids

Before you decide on which brand or sleep aids you want to purchase it is important that you read the ingredients on the common over-the-counter sleep aids. There are numerous options to choose from when it comes to over-the-counter sleep aids, and they do different things to your body to make you sleep. Below are the common over-the-counter sleep aids that you will find.

Sleep aids – Melatonin

Although your body naturally produces melatonin, which is a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle, many OTC sleep aids feature synthetic versions as the main ingredient. You can also find melatonin supplements in most drug stores in dosages ranging from 1 to 10 MG. If it is your first time, the recommended dosage is maxed 3mg. You can then increase the dose over time.

Melatonin is mostly used for temporary sleep issues such as acute insomnia, jet lag or shift in work schedules. For best results, this OTC sleep aid should be taken 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed. Melatonin will induce drowsiness so you fall asleep faster.

Sleep aids – Sedating antihistamines

Sedating antihistamines can help people who suffer from acute insomnia. Some OTC antihistamines are usually used to treat allergies and these can cause drowsiness. However, not all antihistamines have this effect and people sometimes use first-generation antihistamines or sedating antihistamines to promote sleep or relieve tension and anxiety.

The following are sedating antihistamines;

  • Diphenhydramine ( Benadryl)
  • Doxylamine (Unisom)
  • Cyclizine (Marezine) is a second-generation antihistamine and is less likely to cause drowsiness.

The following are non-sedating antihistamines:

  • Cetrizine (Zyrtec)
  • Ioratadine (Claritin)
  • Fexofenadine (Allerga)

Doctors may recommend sedating antihistamines, but only for a short period of time, they are usually not addictive, however, the body will get used to them quickly, so these will become less effective over time.

Sleep aids – Valerian root

Valerian is a plant; people have used the medical properties in the root since the ancient Greek and Rome. Valerian root is a common ingredient in herbal supplements that people use to improve sleep, relieve anxiety, and support relaxation. Valerian may come in many forms such as;

  • Tea
  • Liquids
  • Capsules

Several studies show the valerian root as an effective aid for relaxation and induce quality sleep and relieve anxiety. Valerian root-based sleep aids are available in drug stores, health food stores, and online shops.

Sleep aids – Hypnotic sleeping pills

Hypnotics are a group of sleeping medications only available by prescription. However, we will add this to the list nevertheless. Your doctor may prescribe hypnotics to treat a number of sleep disorders including insomnia, and RLS (restless legs syndrome).

The most common hypnotic sleeping pills are:

  • Ramelteon
  • Zaleplon
  • Eszopiclone
  • Zolpidem

Doctors tend to prescribe hypnotics for insomnia that is long-lasting and bothersome because the drugs can have side effects.

Here is a list of sedative-hypnotics, called benzodiazepines, which also treat insomnia. These medication includes;

  • Alprazolam
  • Diazepam
  • Lorazepam

Before the doctor will prescribe these sedative-hypnotics is usually because the hypnotic does not help, this is because of benzodiazepine dependence and its more severe side effects.

Sleep aids – when to use sleep aids

Remember, OTC sleep aids are only meant for temporary use. If you are still having sleep problems after 2 weeks you should always consult your health care provider to provide a more effective solutions.

When to use over-the-counter sleep aids listed below:

  • Insomnia – a person suffering from insomnia should take the sleep aid 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime
  • For jet lag – if tackling with jet lag, take melatonin hours before the intended bedtime, every day throughout the trip and for few days after that. Doses recommended are 0.5mg to 5 mg is sufficient.
  • For work shift – take 2 to 3mg of melatonin at the end of the shift, to help your body prepare for sleep.
  • Prescription pills – the right dosage and frequency depend very much on the person’s condition, here you always follow the doctor’s order.

Sleep aids – always use OTC sleep aids with caution

Sedating medications, including antihistamines and hypnotics, can leave people tired, drowsy or groggy the following day. For older adults, the side effect may be memory problems, some sleeping aids, when a person takes them to relieve insomnia, can make it more difficult to fall asleep without them.