What Are The Best Over The Counter Sleep Aids?
Because of the rampant insomnia that occurs in society today, over-the-counter sleep aids are now more popular than ever.
Despite their long history and many studies showing the efficacy of each type of non-prescription sleeping aids, it seems that the public remains less than educated on the subject.
Because of this fact, many choose the wrong sleeping aids, leaving them waking up with side effects like:
- Dry Mouth
- Blurred Vision
- Loss of Memory
The reason for these side effects is that most over the counter sleep aidsgain their effectiveness from an ingredient called an antihistamine.
But this isn’t the only class of over the counter sleep aids available. When it comes to sleeping aids there are two broad categories:
- Herbal Sleep Aid.
And with each of those categories, subcategories exist. For example, antihistamines come in a few different forms, their classification mostly dependent on the inclusion or exclusion of three ingredients.
- Diphenhydramine hydrochloride
- Diphenhydramine citrate
- Doxylamine succinate
Using Antihistamines as Sleeping Aids
Antihistamines use either diphenhydramine hydrochloride or doxylamine succinate to provide the sleepy or drowsy effect people desire when they take over the counter sleep aids.
Some of the most popular brands of sleeping pills that contain diphenhydramine hydrochloride are:
- Unisom SleepGels
- Tylenol PM
Other brands of over the counter sleep aids that contain doxlamine succinate are:
- Unisom tablets
Regardless of which active ingredient antihistamine sleeping pills utilize, they all act in the same way: by inhibiting the neurotransmitter so that your central nervous system is suppressed.
This suppression is the reason that most people will still feel groggy or drowsy in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep. In some cases, people may even feel nervous, restless and agitated—especially the young or the old.
But one of the largest problems with these types of over the counter sleep aids is that they are only meant to be taken for a short while and are highly addictive.
For those with transient insomnia or insomnia based on illness or depression, antihistamines can be an effective tool for curing sleeping ailments when taken as directed.
But when taken for long-term periods of time, the addictive qualities of these over the counter sleep aids can often become problematic with patients experiencing horrid withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Doctors such as Angelo Cuzalina suggest trying herbal remedies to avoid so many side effects.
Sedative HypnoticsOther sleeping medications are known as sedative hypnotics and work by acting on receptors in the brain. This slows down the nervous system, inducing sleep.
While still potentially habit-forming due to their slow expulsion from the body, many find sedative hypnotics to leave a less-drowsy feeling the morning after than with antihistamines. There are three main categories of sedative hypnotics.
Melatonin Receptor Agonist HypnoticThough less addictive than other medications but still with its share of side effects, this over-the-counter sleep aid mimics melatonin, the naturally occurring sleep regulation hormone. Two of the more popular melatonin receptor agonist hypnotics are:
- Ramelteon (Rozerem)
- Benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics
Thelatter of these two has been around for a while, and is still largely used by many people. Though more addictive than others forms of sleep aids and classified by the FDA as a controlled substance, newer versions of benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics are trying to lessen the tendency of addiction. Typically used to treat anxiety, Benzodiazepines approved by the FDA include:
- Estazolam (ProSom)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Quazepam (Doral)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Flurazepam (Dalmane)
Non-Benzodiazepine sedative hypnoticsMost of the newer, safer and non-addictive sleep medications fall under this category. Having a different chemical structure than benzodiazepines, the lessened side effects and addictive properties are making this sleeping aid a popular choice. You may recognize the following:
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- Zalepon (Sonata)
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
Trazodone (Desyrel) and InsomniaAlthough not approved by the FDA for use in insomnia patients, Trazodone is still one of the most widely and popularly prescribed sleeping aids.
Like other sleeping medications, Trazodone is only effective for short-term usage, not for long-term sleeping disorders.
Unlike other over-the-counter sleep aids, Trazodone carries with it a high risk of suicidal thoughts and depression, especially in young adults and children.
Herbs SleepAidsOn the flip side of the coin from the heavily side-effect laden chemical sleeping pills are herbal sleep aids. With their low-to-no side effects, herbal remedies for sleep such as:
- Valerian Root
- Lemon Balm
- St. John’s Wort
are very effective and gentle with their sedative properties. The main concerns here (if any) would be allergic reactions to the plants or pollen contained in some of these herbal sleep remedies.
The herbal over the counter sleep aid known as valerian root can sometimes cause blurred vision, wild dreams, excitability and changes in heart rhythms.
Calms FortéCalms Forté tablets are composed of four botanicals meant to soothe and quiet irritated nerves and edginess without sedatives or tranquilizers. Using five biochemic phosphates with triple potency, this over the counter sleeping aidclaims that it feeds the nerves of the body, strengthening them and helping you tocope with everyday stress and strain better.
With many positive reviews and little-to-no side effects reported, Calms Forté contains passionflower, humuluslupulus, chamomile, and many other herbal ingredients. Also used to treat attention deficit disorder and general nervousness, this sleep aid is effective for all types of sleep disorders.
Melatonin SupplementsThe naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain is known as melatonin. Because it works on the circadian rhythm (our biological clock that regulates our sleep/wake cycles), melatonin is vital to getting a good night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, there are literally thousands of reasons that humans become melatonin deficient including age, blindness, work schedules, light sources and stress.
Melatonin supplements can be used as a quick way to readjust the lack of melatonin in the body and rebalance the sleep cycle. Melatonin supplements can also be used by people who want to wean themselves off of sleep medication addiction.
Some natural sleep aids use melatonin in conjunction with herbs like chamomile and lemon balm to help lull the body back to sleep without acting as a true sedative. Sleep aids that mimic the body's natural sleep response may help guard against side effects like grogginess that can come with other types of sleeping aids.
Melatonin can come with certain side effects which include:
- Sexual Irregularities
- Mood Swings
Although safe for most people, small children and pregnant women should not use melatonin supplements as well as the people with the following conditions (without first consulting their physicians):
- Extreme Allergies
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Auto Immune Diseases
- Some Cancer Patients.
SAMeSAMe stands for S-adenosyl-methionine, an amino acidderivative found naturally in the body. Used for a few weeks, this over the counter sleep aidcan not only help you sleep, but treats depression and chronic fatigue as well by promoting serotonin production in the body.
Unless consumed in large quantities (producing gastrointestinal discomfort), SAMe has no other known side effects.
Guide To Using Sleep Aids
- Sleeping medications, be they approved or not by the FDA, are only intended for short-term usage.
- Consult your physician before starting any form of sleep aid, especially if you’re pregnant, nursing, have glaucoma or breathing problems.
- Over the counter sleep aids should not be taken in conjunction with other sleeping pills, sedatives, tranquilizers or antihistamines.
- Sleeping aids are to be taken before bedtime only.
- Do not use sleeping aids on children under the age of 12.
- Follow the instructions “to the T” on the back of sleeping aid packaging unless otherwise directed by your physician.
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