Over Counter Sleep Aids

When natural options for treating sleep deprivation aren’t cutting it, over counter sleep aids are the next step. These sleep aids tend to be limited in their use, meaning usage is typically recommended to not extend past 2 weeks. However, these types of sleep aids are valuable in providing the user some breathing space to find a more sustainable and long-term solution for sleep loss.

Typically, over counter sleep aids are only used in extreme cases of sleep deprivation, such as situations where the patient is suffering from an elevated insomnia. Therefore it may be recommended that if you are experiencing infrequent sleep loss, finding the best natural sleep aid for natural solutions concerning both mild and elevated cases is highly recommended. For those with repetitive and severe sleep deprivation, more drastic options may be the answer, but there are important steps that must be taken prior to use, and risks to be aware of.

First, consult a doctor:

  • All cases concerning frequent sleep loss should be assessed by your family doctor to determine whether or not over the counter sleep aids are the right solution.
  • Understand that there are several different types of insomnia, and thus a medical diagnosis is necessary to determine which sleep aid will be most effective and safe.
  • Your medical physician should recommend the right medication for you; however, not all medications are effective, so a solid understanding of different sleep aids is necessary to help manage sleep deprivation.
  • Remember that, if depression or anxiety is deemed as a major contributing factor to your insomnia, ask your physician ways in which you can also treat the anxiety and, or, depression. Treat both cases as intertwined, and do not isolate one from the other.

Second, understand the risks:

    • Medications can be psychologically addictive, but only in a mind over matter sense. With extended use, the brain may connect the use of a sleep aid with the actual act of sleeping, thus causing the individual to become dependant. However, this does not happen with all users, and should not be a reason to write off these sleep aids.
    • One way to prevent a dependency from happening is to use over the counter sleep aids irregularly. Try to establish the necessity for the sleep aid: instead of using it every night regardless of the severity of symptoms, assess each night separately and determine yourself whether or not you feel a sleep aid is required.
    • As most sleep aids recommend, do not operate machinery, drive, or engage in any activity that requires unimpeded motor-senses. Sleep aids typically induce drowsiness or a related feeling that can dull the senses, so if for some reason you require transportation, ask a friend for a lift, catch a cab, or take public transport.
  • Do not consume alcohol in conjunction with sleep aid usage. Mixing sleep aids with alcohol increases the symptoms of the medication, and can have extremely unfavourable results.

There are a variety of different over the counter sleep aids depending on the diagnosis of insomnia or deprivation.

Be sure to consult the instructions provided on the product for instruction on proper usage. Here is a list of the most common OTC sleep aids that are considered effective, and provide solid temporary relief of symptoms, these are:

  • Valerian – Vitabiotics Valerian
  • Diphenhydramine – Benadryl, Unisom sleepGels
  • Doxylamine succinate – NyQuil Cold&Flu, Unisom SleepTabs
  • Melatonin – Jason Melatonin-3

While it is not an over the counter sleep aid, Valerian is still worth noting. Valerian a herb that is used to make what many consider to be a safer sleep aid medicine. It is also often combined with harmless drowsy-inducing ingredients such as hops and lemon balm. The significance of Valerian in connection to over the counter sleep aids is that it is often used by those wishing to wean off of them, but can also be an appropriate option to cure insomnia. However, results vary, and it is unclear as to whether science wholly agrees on its effectiveness and results. It is worth stating though, that valerian does not appear to have any side-effects.

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that induces drowsiness or dizziness in the user. This a common ingredient found in Unisom sleep products to help relieve the symptoms of insomnia. Although considered an effective sleep aid for those with sleep deprivation, it does have some side-effects effects, such as:

  • Dry mouth
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Ischuria (urinary retention)

In addition to the previous, do not take diphenhydramine if you suffer from the following (again, consult your doctor before consuming any sleep aid)

  • A urinary tract problem
  • A thyroid condition
  • A breathing condition such as asthma
  • A productive cough, including one caused by smoking, bronchitis, or emphysema
  • Heart disease or low blood pressure.
  • Glaucoma
  • A colostomy or ileostomy
  • A liver or kidney disease
  • A block in the digestive tract, including the stomach, and, or intestine.

Doxylamine Succinate

Similar to diphenhydramine, doxylamine succinate is an antihistamine that causes drowsiness. This is often prescribed to those suffering from allergic reactions, hay fever, or the common cold. This product is considered to be a cough and cold product, and is thus not recommended for use by children under the age of six. Note that the side effects of doxylamine succinate are similar to that of diphenhydramine. Depending on your diagnosis or present condition however, one may be recommended over the other.

  • For example, it is recommended that doxylamine succinate not be used if one is pregnant.
  • Also the drug may seep into breast milk, so breastfeeding is also advised against.
  • Those with diabetes should also be wary, as some doxylamine medications contain sugar.


Melatonin is a hormone found in plants and bacteria, as well as animals. In animals, it is released with the onset of darkness, resulting in tiredness. In the drug form, results vary in effectiveness, and is usually not suitable for those suffering from a severe case of insomnia. Also, a melatonin deficiency is not usually the cause of insomnia. Therefore, this drug is usually recommended to those who suffer sleep loss as a result of time-differences via jet lag, or from irregular work-shifts. Melatonin is often deemed as a safer choice, with mild side-effects like daytime sleepiness and headache, so testing its effectiveness is worth a try.