For many people, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids are usually the initial step to finding a solution to insomnia or sleeplessness. When first experiencing trouble falling or staying asleep, most people will head to a pharmacy or drug store before seeking heavy-duty treatment from a doctor. There are many OTC sleep aids on the market, including both natural supplements and drugs, and that can be overwhelming or helpful depending on your situation. Typically, sleeplessness occurs as a result of a medical condition or stress, and there are many sleep aids to address either cause. Having choices of sleep aids allows you the freedom to try different options to see what works best for you, as well as giving you the opportunity to find the best sleep aid that fits with your health.
Quick Look at Our Top 9 Picks
While insomnia can be a nuisance, it can also have serious effects on our overall health and wellbeing. Not getting enough sleep can lead to weight gain, an inability to think clearly and make decisions, sickness due to a weakened immune system, depression, increased blood pressure, hormone disfunction, and increased risk of heart disease, among others. Living a healthy lifestyle can address all of these as well as sleeplessness, but for some people, an over-the-counter sleep aid is an option to take into consideration.
Sleep & Our Health
Because sleep is a vital piece of our overall health and wellbeing, it is necessary to ensure you are getting the proper quality and quantity of sleep on a consistent basis. According to WebMD, the average adult should aim to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, but that range can vary depending on the person. Some people have found that need more sleep to feel rested and fully functioning during the day, while other have found that they feel this way after only 6 hours of sleep per night. There are other exceptions as well—pregnant women, children, or people with certain medical conditions generally need more sleep than the average adult.
An important point to remember is that our bodies never become accustomed to a lack of sleep, so if you lose sleep one night, you will need more sleep the next night to make up for it, and that is difficult to accomplish with an already full schedule. Try to keep track of how much sleep you get at night and how you feel during the day to determine your personal nightly sleep goal. If you feel drowsy during the day at work or personal obligations, you may need to schedule in some more time to rest.
A frequently overlooked factor that influences sleep is overall wellbeing. Living a healthy lifestyle can help ensure that your body is functioning the way it should be, including being able to fall and stay asleep. If you are eating unhealthy foods, smoking, consuming alcohol, or not exercising, for example, your health suffers in many ways, sleep being one of them. Maintaining healthy habits, such as exercising, eating right, and generally taking care of yourself can help alleviate sleeplessness.
Similarly, good sleep habits play a big role in your health and the quality and quantity of your sleep. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same times consistently, making sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep, and avoiding certain activities before bed. Sticking to the same bed time and wake time each day, even on the weekends, will train your body to sleep when it is time to sleep. Additionally, your bedroom should be set up as the ideal sleep environment: calm, cool, dark, and silent, rid of anything that has lights, moves, or makes noise. Finally, prepare your mind and body for bedtime by taking a bath or shower, reading or writing in a journal, drinking herbal tea, or meditating; it is best to avoid being active, eating, or working before bed.
Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids
Sometimes, living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining good sleep habits may not be enough to overcome sleeplessness caused by stress or a medical condition. In those cases, an over-the-counter sleep aid could be your solution.
Sleep aids are drugs or supplements that are intended to treat insomnia by helping the user fall asleep quickly, stay asleep all night, and wake up rested in the morning. There are several OTC sleep aid varieties, but usually they fall into one of two categories based on their ingredients: natural or unnatural. Both types are meant to be used on a temporary basis for those people who experience occasional insomnia, not as a permanent solution. For more serious cases of insomnia, it is best to consult a doctor for advice, rather than using OTC sleep aids on a regular, consistent basis.
Unnatural OTC sleep aids most often contain diphenhydramine HCI or doxylamine succinate as their active ingredients. These two drugs are very similar. First, they are both antihistamines. Antihistamines are well known for treating allergies and having drowsiness as a side effect. When used as sleep aids, that side effect actually becomes the desired effect.
Diphenhydramine HCI and doxylamine succinate are also known to share many of the same side effects, which are oftentimes referred to as “hangover effects”. Dry mouth, blurred vision, drowsiness during the day, constipation, and general unwell feeling, among others, have been documented as the common side effects of drugs that contain the ingredients diphenhydramine HCI or doxylamine succinate. Similarly, these ingredients carry with them some risk for dependency on, or tolerance for, the drug.
Natural OTC sleep aids also share many of the same ingredients, all of which are sourced from our bodies or the outdoors. The ingredients you will most likely find some combination of are melatonin, valerian (or valerian root), chamomile, passionflower, hops, magnesium, and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Each of these ingredients is included for their ability to create drowsiness, and soothing feelings of relaxation that can help users fall asleep and stay asleep. Since natural OTC sleep aids usually come in the form of supplements, they are not strictly regulated by the FDA, so there is a small risk that they could be made improperly, contain the incorrect dosage, or have the wrong ingredients. Despite this, these sleep aids are considered to be safer to consume on a more regular basis because the ingredients are naturally occurring.
What Are the Top Nine Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids?
Here is a summary of the top nine OTC sleep aids, both unnatural and natural, and each offers a unique combination of desirable features and options. All of these products are highly rated, and sleep tested.
What Else Should You Consider When Purchasing and Using Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids?
When trying to find a solution for insomnia, it can be easy to forget about the big picture. Although sleeplessness is a health concern, it is critical that you try to address the issue while keeping your overall health in mind. If you find a drug or supplement that helps you sleep, but has other negative effects on your body, then nothing has been accomplished. Because of this, you must be aware of the potential side effects or interactions that over-the-counter sleep aids can have.
First, consider side effects. Typically, the OTC sleep aids that produce the most side effects are those that contain drugs like diphenhydramine HCI and doxylamine succinate. Some users may not notice any side effects, and for others, the side effects could be mild, but in certain cases, the side effects could be very damaging. Until you know how a sleep aid will affect you in particular, proceed with caution. Oppositely, natural OTC sleep aids aren’t known to produce side effects. The only real exception to this is with natural sleep aids that contain valerian or valerian root, which could produce mild “hangover” symptoms like headache, upset stomach, confusion, dry mouth, and feelings of anxiety.
Second, consider drug or supplement interactions. When adding something new to your diet or routine, there is always a chance that it could interact with other drugs or supplements you are already taking as well as the way your body is already functioning. In some cases, adding a sleep aid to your body’s current conditions could create a new health concern or worsen an existing health concern. Because of this, it is recommended that you become informed about the OTC sleep aid you plan to try by speaking with a pharmacist or researching online.
Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids – Final Thoughts
There is no question that sleep is an important factor in our overall health and wellbeing. For those times when a healthy lifestyle and good sleep habits aren’t enough to curtail your sleeplessness, there are many OTC sleep aids that can help. Since over-the-counter sleep aids are a temporary solution to occasional sleeplessness, be sure to consult a doctor if your sleeplessness worsens or continues. Not all OTC sleep aids are the same and they can affect everyone differently, so proceed with caution and be aware of how introducing a new drug or supplement could fit into your individual situation.