Over the counter sleep Aids

| March 31, 2012 | 2 Comments

More and more people find it difficult to get a decent night’s sleep anymore. The common causes are everywhere; from stress, poor sleep patterns, to substance abuse and metabolic disorders.

It may be concern about your kids, maybe the bills are unpaid or maybe you’re a workhorse bringing home work. At any rate, the sleep just evades you. When you’ve reached the stage that attempting lifestyle changes just don’t cut it anymore, your last salvation will more likely than not be a sleeping pill. If you find that you’ve tried all these tips:

  • Going to bed and getting up the same time everyday to develop a rhythm.
  • Avoiding exercise two hours around bedtime.
  • Avoid eating large meal portions at dinner.
  • Avoiding caffeinated, nicotine containing or other stimulant drugs four hours before bed.
  • Sleeping in a cool, dark room away from audio distractions.
  • Winding down 30 minutes before going to sleep.

And sleep still avoids you, an over the counter sleep aid may seem like a good option to you. Before you take that step, however, and buy that first packet of tabs, ensure you read the following article about what you’re about to take.

Diphenhydramine (Unisom, Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Sominex)

over the counter sleep aids

over the counter sleep aids

This is the most popular over the counter sleep aid worldwide. It is classified as an anti-histamine with a very sedating effect. This is why it is commonly used to treat acute episodes of insomnia. Diphenhydramine is proven to help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer, although next day drowsiness is a real possibility. There are also many other uses for diphenhydramine, more main stream than its use for sleep.

Diphenhydramine blocks the effect of the hormone (or neurotransmitter) histamine in both the brain and body, resulting in sedation.

Currently, use of diphenhydramine is not advised for children less than two years of age.  It should also be used with extreme caution in the elderly, or those with pre-existing complications including enlarged prostate, hypertension, glaucoma  or asthma to name a few. It is generally not advised for use on a long term basis, as tolerance to the drug develops rapidly along with possibly higher incidence of side-effects.

Side-effects of diphenhydramine

  • Headaches
  • Prolonged drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Abnormal heart beat
  • Thickening of lung mucus

Doxylamine (Unisom, Night-time sleep aid)

Doxylamine is one of the newer generation anti-histamines on the market, possessing sedative and anti-allergy effects greater than the majority of others, excepting probably only diphenhydramine. It is the most purchased sleep aid on the U.S, and is better for sleep than even a few prescription strength drugs.

The usual recommended dose used to induce sleep is between 6.25mg (quarter tablet) to 25 mg.

Side-effects of doxylamine

Effects related to use are similar to other anti-histamines, but are significantly more pronounced. These include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of memory

, Along with the others highlighted under diphenhydramine. The drug is safe for long term use since it does not cause dependence, however a break is recommended to compensate for loss of potency that may occur.


This is a naturally occurring compound occurring in plants and animals, and is essential for the facilitation of numerous body processes, as well as regulating the body’s circadian rhythm (sleep cycle).  Levels of this compound increase significantly during the night (in the dark), and drops down again in the day. Melatonin is considered very safe, and effective in the majority of people who use it as a sleep aid.

The usual adult dose for melatonin ranges greatly between 0.3mg- 5mg. It is often best to start on the low side, and increase if necessary. If you find yourself needing to consume over 5mg nightly, there may be a better option for you.

Melatonin side-effects

These are generally mild and rare, but when they do occur may include:

  • Headache
  • Disturbed natural sleep pattern
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Allergic reaction
  • Next day drowsiness

These side-effects are mostly temporary and can be eliminated or reduced by decreasing the dose.

Valerian (root)

This is a hardy plant, native to Europe and Asia, which was originally used as perfume. As medicine and pharmacy developed, however, it was found that the roots possessed decent sedative and relaxant effects.  It is important if you decide to use this as a sleep aid to ensure that you purchase a standardized extract; this ensures you get the same strength in every capsule.

One capsule of valerian root extract is usually taken before bed, and may be used as long as necessary.

Side-effects of Valerian Root

  • Mild depression
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Prolonged drowsiness

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Category: Natural Sleep Aids

Comments (2)

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  1. Daniel says:

    There is an herb that they make it in teas called Chamomile Tea (look in your local gcrreoy stores or ask a pharmacist at local drug store). It’s one of the safest herb out there. It will help with your insomnia and is less likely to cause any drug interactions if you are on other meds. You should use the unprocessed leaf if that’s possible, if not, then teabags are ok too. Use a kettle or pot to boil water with the tealeaf for about 5 minutes and let it shimmer for about 2 minutes with the lid on so that you can get all the ingredients out. Drink this before bedtime, like after dinner. For your migraines, you take magnesium supplement and avoid triggers such as loud noises before bed or even caffeine and chocolate during any part of the day. Hope this helps.

  2. Michael says:

    Hey Daniel, that’s great! it is indeed one of the best natural herbs out there to help ease apprehension after a hard day’s work. I bet taking chamomile with magnesium would have you sleeping like a baby ;)

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