The best over the counter sleep aids, and how to choose a safe OTC solution
Thinking of using an over the counter sleep aid?
You might have already tried endless natural remedies, explored strategies that involve changing your sleep hygiene and invested in new relaxation methods. Unfortunately, sometimes no matter what you do to improve your sleep cycle, insomnia remains persistent.
Countless people across the globe suffer with at least mild insomnia. This basically means that you have trouble staying asleep or getting to sleep.
The more you fail to get the right quality of sleep, the more you may start to consider things like over the counter sleep aids as a solution to your problem. After all, while no-one wants to expose their body to chemicals, a lack of sleep can be seriously dangerous, and overwhelming to contend with.
If all else fails, the least you can do is make sure that you’re choosing the best over the counter sleep aid on the market.
What is an over the counter sleep aid?
If you’ve already followed all the usual tips for improving sleep, like having a nice cup of tea before bed, following a consistent schedule, and avoiding lengthy naps, that doesn’t guarantee you a good night’s rest. Some people can struggle with sleep for a range of reasons, including stress, a sudden change in schedule, or even an illness.
When natural strategies aren’t working, an over the counter sleep aid may be the next best thing. OTC sleep aids often feature chemicals and man-made substances, but they can be a lot less dangerous and habit-forming than prescription medications. What’s more, the best over the counter sleep aids are often very effective, although they may make you drowsy during the day after you wake up from your slumber.
Though the best OTC sleep aid will usually have fewer side-effects and dangers associated with it than a prescription medication, these substances still need to be used with care. Over the counter sleep aids aren’t intended for long-term use. If you’re having constant issues with insomnia, you may need to speak to a doctor.
When browsing through over the counter sleep aids, you’ll usually find that most of them feature similar ingredients, including:
Melatonin: A natural hormone produced by the human body to help with controlling the sleep and wake cycle. Many OTC sleep aids will feature a synthetic version of this substance.
Valerian root: A natural substance well-known for its sleep-inducing properties. Some OTC sleep aids use valerian alongside other ingredients to promote sleep.
Glycine: A natural amino acid effective at regulating the central nervous system. Glycine can help with controlling and improving sleep quality. It may also reduce body temperature, which is important for sleep.
Diphenhydramine or DPH: This is the main active ingredient in most over the counter sleep aids, as well as drowsy-inducing allergy medications. Sedative antihistamines such as this fight back against allergies, but they also induce sleep as a side effect.
What is the best over the counter sleep aid?
As with prescription medications for sleep, it’s generally best to avoid OTC sleep aids whenever possible. These drugs can cause daytime drowsiness, reduced mental alertness, and other common side effects. However, if your sleep disorders are getting the best of you, and you need a way to recover, then an over the counter sleep aid may seem like your only choice.
The good news is that when they’re used carefully and correctly, the best over the counter sleep aids can be very beneficial. These substances help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. Some of the best OTC sleep aid options include:
1. Melatonin supplements
As mentioned above, melatonin is one of the natural hormones in your body that helps to regulate the sleep and waking cycle. When it gets dark, your body produces melatonin, telling you that it’s time to go to sleep. Many OTC sleep aids contain a synthetic form of melatonin, but some people find that they can get better results by using melatonin supplements instead.
Melatonin supplements are ideal for people with circadian rhythm disorders, because they help to get your internal clock back on track. Try these over the counter sleep aids if:
You’re dealing with awkward shifts at work.
You’re experiencing jet lag.
You sleep during the day but not at night.
Though the findings around using melatonin for insomnia are mixed, some research indicates that this supplemental substance can reduce the time required to fall asleep.
2. Valerian root
Another common option found in over the counter sleep aids and natural supplements for sleeping disorders, valerian root comes from a plant. The medicinal properties of this root have been used throughout the centuries to assist with everything from relaxation to insomnia.
If you’re thinking of using an over the counter sleep aid that includes valerian root, it might be worth trying to use the natural substance on its own first. For instance, you could consider using valerian tinctures under your tongue, or valerian tea. Various clinical studies have shown that valerian can improve insomnia symptoms.
Valerian root-based aids are available over the counter in many drug stores and health food shops.
3. Sedating antihistamines
Finally, sedating antihistamines are usually what people are talking about when they mention over the counter sleep aids. These substances were originally designed to help protect against allergies, but they also cause drowsiness and may induce sleep as a side effect. Some people even use sedating antihistamines to control things like anxiety, but this is rarely a good idea.
Sedating antihistamines can have a lot of problematic side effects when they’re used in long-term treatment strategies. Some of the most common antihistamines include:
Cyclizine (the ingredient in Marezine).
Doxylamine (the ingredient in Unisom).
Diphenhydramine (the ingredient in Benadryl).
While sedating antihistamines are often recommended as the go-to over the counter sleep aid by doctors, they’re only intended for short term use and must be taken with caution.
Are over the counter sleep aids dangerous?
Caring for your health when taking sleeping remedies means that you can’t just jump into the process looking for the strongest over the counter sleep aid there is. Ultimately, most experts consider OTC sleep aids to be relatively safe, but sedating medications, including hypnotics and antihistamines, can cause side-effects that might be problematic in the long-term.
One of the major side effects of even the best sleep aids is that they could make it harder for you to fall asleep without help in the future. According to a Consumer Reports Survey, over 18% of the people who used OTC sleep aids for insomnia continued using the medication on a daily basis. 41% of respondents said that they used the pills for a year or longer.
The risks of over the counter sleep aids can include:
Confusion or trouble concentrating.
Dizziness and drowsiness during the day.
Dependence over time.
Problems with memory.
Taking OTC sleep aids regularly can also interfere with the other medications that you’re taking, which means that other health issues start to get worse.
Is there a safe over the counter sleep aid?
Aside from a slight hangover effect, and a few other side effects, using an over the counter sleep aid temporarily isn’t particularly dangerous. However, you’ll need to make sure that you’re careful with your exposure to OTC sleep aids.
For instance, before you take any medication, including something natural like a valerian supplement, it’s important to speak to your doctor. Any medication, including supplements could interfere with your other drugs and also cause damage to breast-feeding parents, and mothers to be. You should also keep the following rules in mind when choosing the best sleep aids:
Do not give children sleep aids unless their doctor agrees to it.
Do not mix over the counter sleep aids with alcohol.
Start at a low dose to avoid excessive side effects, particularly in older adults.
If you’re experiencing disorders like chronic insomnia, or long-term sleep deprivation, then it’s best not to rely on over the counter sleep aids at all. These medications are intended for short-term treatment, and your long-term problem could be a sign of something more serious. Speak to your doctor about tests for things like thyroid problems, mood disorders, and even sleep apnea.
Finding the best sleep aid for your slumber issues
For most people, the best sleep aid will always be something natural, like a change to their nighttime routine that helps them to drift off faster. Ultimately, it’s much better to improve your sleep hygiene and therefore transform your quality of sleep in the long-term than to rely on a short-term solution like OTC sleep aids.
However, if you do think that you need an over the counter sleep aid to get some rest, start by speaking to your doctor. Make sure that the aid you have chosen won’t interact with any other conditions or medications. Additionally, take it slow and start with a small dose that you can increase over time if you need to.
Like with any medication, it’s also a good idea to check through the list of side effects included with your OTC sleep aids to decide whether you really want to take the substance or not. What’s more, even if you see results, don’t continue to take the drugs for longer than 2 weeks without your doctor’s approval.
Sleep aids purchased over the counter can be a quick and effective way to get some rest when you’re dealing with a short-term issue. The best type of pill or medication will depend on what’s causing your trouble sleeping, as well as the unique nature of your sleeping patterns.