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Over the Counter Sleep Aids

What is the Best Sleep Aid?

People who have trouble sleeping may look to over the counter sleep aids for some much-needed relief, but how can you know which might be the best sleep aid for your sleep problems?

Sleep aids can be effective for short-term insomnia, long trips, or for helping you reduce your anxiety level for a short period of time, but do the over the counter products have any effect on chronic insomnia?

Let's take a look at the different types of sleep aids and how they work!

Types of Sleep Aids - Available Over the Counter

Nowadays we have a choice of both over the counter sleep medications, and also many herbal or nutritional sleep aids.

Over the Counter Sleep Medications

  • Diphenhydramine - some of the popular name brands of this type of OTC sleep aid include Tylenol PM, Nitol, Benadryl, Compoz, Sleepinal, and Sominex.

  • Doxylamine - common name brands of this type of sleep aid include Nighttime Sleep Aid and Unisom.
Natural Sleep

Natural Sleep Remedies

  • Valerian root - an all natural herb that smells bad but helps to relax the body and help you to sleep.

  • Melatonin - a natural hormone that helps some people sleep, and that may have other health benefits.

  • 5 HTP - a natural amino acid that can tell the brain to let the body sleep. This is considered a safer version of Tryptophan or L-tryptophan which have some health concerns associated with them.

  • Herbal sleep aids - these are mixtures of herbs, or herbs with amino acids and other nutritional supplements that are thought to help people sleep more soundly. Some of these herbal sleeping aids herbs include lemon balm, hops, chamomile, passionflower, kava kava, St. John's Wort, and lavender.

  • Calcium and Magnesium - are minerals which help to nourish the nervous system and promote relaxation. They can be found in supplement form and also in foods. They work best when taken together, in the right proportions, on by eating high calcium and magnesium foods.

  • Homeopathic remedies - these work on the subtler levels of the body but can be quite effective. One notable homeopathic sleep aid is Calm's Forte which has an immediate and noticeable effect, even for people who are not familiar with homeopathic remedies.

How Do Over the Counter Sleep Aids Work?

The main ingredient found in Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine products is an antihistamine, which essentially quiets the chemical messenger in the brain called histamine and helps people sleep at night. There are, unfortunately, some negative side effects of over the counter sleep medications that may prevent some people from getting a good night sleep despite taking the drug.

Valerian root, melatonin, 5-HTP, and herbal sleep aids work naturally with the body to help end your sleep deprivation and promote healthier sleep patterns. The good news is that they're wonderful for getting a good night of sleep now and then when insomnia hits, but they may not be as effective for treating chronic insomnia.

Benefits of Over the Counter Sleep Aids

  • Effective for short-term help sleeping

  • Great for traveling long distances and dealing with jet lag

  • Can help take the edge off prior to stressful situations

  • Can provide a few nights of good sleep

  • Some natural sleep remedies can have other health benefits such as stress relief during the daytime

Drawbacks of Over the Counter Sleep Aids

Depending on the type of sleep aids you are using, you may experience some side effects, especially with the over the counter sleep medications.

  • Extreme fatigue or fogginess the following day

  • Difficulty focusing on task

  • Dizziness

  • Dry mouth or throat

  • Constipation

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Some may be be addictive

  • Melatonin is recommended by some doctors for only 3 months or so, although other studies find that it has health benefits

  • Kava kava can cause toxic build up in the liver if used for an extended time

  • Some natural sleep remedies may interfere with the effectiveness of other medications you may be taking

  • Could cause further health issues for people with existing health problems

  • They can become less and less effective the longer they're taken

  • Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should never take Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine products.

Always talk to your physician or health care practitioner prior to taking an over the counter sleep aid to make sure it won't interact or interfere with any other medications or vitamins you may already take.

Tips for Consistently Solid Sleep

Lifestyle changes are a must for those who suffer with chronic insomnia. No pill or natural remedy will help you sleep consistently long term without changing or eliminating the root cause of your sleeplessness. Some recommended tips for enjoying a solid night of sleep might include:

  1. Go to bed and rise at the same time each day - give your body a few weeks to adjust and it will fall into a sleeping and waking schedule that will ultimately help you sleep more soundly.

  2. Avoid caffeinated beverages and heavy meals right before bed - try to eat a light dinner at least 2 hours prior to sleep. Caffeine should be for breakfast or lunch only.

  3. Resist that afternoon nap whenever possible - naps can interfere with your regular sleep schedule and cause you to stay awake longer at night.

  4. Exercise at least three to four times a week, or every day if you can. This really helps you to sleep better!

  5. Find effective ways to manage your stress level without drugs - Schedule some time every week for recreation, find a hobby, do yoga, meditation, prayer, relaxation techniques, or something else that helps you to relax and relieve stress.

  6. Have enough support in your life - if you are feeling burdened by the problems of life and they are keeping you awake, make some time to talk to a trusted friend, family member, or other supportive person.

  7. Adopt a calming bedtime ritual - drink chamomile tea, take a warm bath, listen to soft music, or reading are just a few ways to calm your body after a long day.

  8. Buy a comfortable pillow and mattress - this is vital for enjoying a truly restful night of sleep!

  9. Create an environment that is conducive for sleep - be sure that you room is dark enough with curtains or an eye mask, soothing sounds from a music CD or white noise generator, earplugs, or additional blankets.

  10. Keep the television out of the bedroom - watching TV actually stimulates the mind instead of calming it down!

  11. Don't read in bed - the bedroom should be primarily for sleep and for intimacy, nothing else. This way, when you climb into bed, the body knows it is time for one or the other.

  12. No alcohol or nicotine before bed - try to limit these to a few hours before climbing into bed for the night.

  13. See a specialist if your insomnia does not improve.

What is the Verdict on Over the Counter Sleep Aids?

Over the counter sleep aids can be used to get a good night's sleep once in a while, but you must be prepared for the possibility of feeling groggy or fatigued the following day.

Each person reacts differently to any medication, whether it's considered over the counter or an all-natural product, so be prepared for the possible side effects.

The final verdict? Occasional insomnia can be treated effectively with over the counter sleep aids, but chronic insomnia sufferers will need to change their lifestyle habits and possibly consider a prescription sleep aid to get sleep at night.

How Do You Get to Sleep at Night?

Do you have an over the counter sleep aid that works great for you? Or other tips for getting a good night's sleep?

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