A while back, we have discussed natural sleep aids. We discussed how they can help sleeping problems while improving the quality and quantity of your sleep. However, natural sleep remedies simply can’t help every sleeping problem out there, especially severe ones. For those cases, there are over the counter sleep aids to help. Most over the counter sleep aids are indeed effective to treat insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep problems. However, the common perception is that they also will cause side effects. Is that always the case? That, and other facts surrounding over the counter sleep aids will be the focus of our discussion today.
In this guide, we will debunk the myths of over the counter sleep aids and give you the facts. We’ll also discuss some of the best brands available on the market, along with our reviews. To begin, let’s talk about the basic principles behind over the counter sleep aids. This will help you choose the right one for you. There are many brands of sleep aids available on the market, each claiming to works the best. However, they can all be boiled down into three different categories.
Common Types of Over The Counter Sleep Aids
Antihistamine pills are generally used to treat allergies. However, they are also very powerful sedatives. They can cause drowsiness and are very effective to help you sleep. Although effective, your body is forming a tolerance against the sedation effect very quickly. So, you can only use antihistamine aids as a short-term solution instead of routine ones. Nowadays, antihistamines are commonly safe from side effects. However, you may still experience some mild sid effects such as:
- dry mouth
- dizziness and drowsiness
- nausea and vomiting
- mood swings and restlessness
- Peeing problems
- blurred vision
As mentioned, however, new forms of anti-histamines pills are relatively safe from those symptoms. Anti-histamines can be addictive due to the built-up tolerance from the body, so use with care as an overdose can cause liver problems, especially when paired with alcohol. If you are experiencing severe sleep problems, anti-histamines can be the strongest, short-term option.Ambien (non-benzodiazepines) well as valium (benzodiazepines) belong to this group, albeit several differences in contents. Some anti-histamines are also perfectly safe for pets such as dogs, although as with humans, it can only be effective in short-term for your dog.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body, and one of the main functions is to help regulate sleep patterns. Melatonin’s natural production is tied to the exposure to sunlight and darkness, a thing most of us experienced less and less due to our increasing indoor activities. In turn, depravity of Melatonin is what disturbing our sleep patterns, and that is where Melatonin supplements can fill in. Since melatonin is naturally produced by the body, there are relatively few side effects. However, there are still some precautions you should take:
- Avoid using melatonin during pregnancy and nursing
- Melatonin can worsen the symptoms of depression
- Can increase blood sugar and blood pressure if paired with certain medications, so avoid using it if you are diabetic or consuming blood pressure medication
- Avoid using melatonin pills if you have seizure or bleeding disorders
- Usage on toddlers and kids can risk overdose (due to their natural production of melatonin), so it is relatively unsafe for children
Melatonin aids can be relatively strong options for most people and also relatively safe. Compared to anti-histamines pills, you can use Melatonin supplements for routine, long-term treatments with care.
Herbal Sleep Aids
If the supplements do not contain anti-histamines or melatonin, they can be put here. As the name might suggest, most herbal pills are natural remedies that are packaged to be over the counter sleep aids.Herbal sleep aide is commonly safest from any side effects, but on the other hand, has a lighter effect. However, some herbal sleep aids also contain melatonin, anti-histamines or both, which can both increase the effectiveness and reduce the side effects. Whats commonly included in a herbal sleep aid? Here are some common examples:
- Valerian, especially valerian root is a dietary supplement that is commonly used to relieve insomnia. However, until this day, no scientific proof about the effectiveness has been found, so, it is possible that the effects provided are simply a placebo. If you are choosing a valerian-based sleeping aid, it is wise to choose those with combinations of other ingredients.
- Chamomile, on the other hand, has been researched and is proven effective as a mild sleeping aid on animals, and is also perfectly safe.
Herbal sleep aids, as mentioned, are relatively mild, but it is still good if you are only looking to improve your sleeping habit.
Are over the counter sleep aids safe?
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. How safe are over the counter sleep aids? This provocative 2012-2013 study might seem disturbing, linking routine usage of an over the counter sleep aid with cancer and higher death risks of over 5.3-fold.
However, even the study suggested that it is not completely proven. As we have discussed above, you should definitely be careful when using over the counter sleep aids that belong to anti-histamines category. Not only that they do have at the very least, mild side effects, but they will also be ineffective if routinely used.
However, herbal sleep aids and melatonin-based sleep aids are perfectly safe, as long as it came from a trusted manufacturer and you follow the recommended usage.
Nevertheless, before you take any over the counter sleep aids, here are some considerations you should have:
- Always talk to your local doctor first about your sleep problems
- Time your over the counter sleep aids properly before bedtime, and avoid any waking activities after consumption
- Discuss any side effects with your doctor
- If your insomnia or sleep apnea is severe and/or persistent, you will also need lifestyle changes and cognitive/behavioral therapies
- Never mix over the counter sleep aids with alcohol or other sedative drugs
- Don’t drive or operate a machinery after consumption
- Never increase the dosage before discussing it with your doctor
- Don’t hide any supplemental sleep aids you’ve taken from your doctor
- Don’t stop prescribed over the counter sleep aids before consulting your doctor
Here is our list of several top-rated products:
Image Credit: Amazon
Kirkland Signature is extremely popular not only in the US, but also in UK and Canada. Not only one of the strongest sleeping pills around, it is also one of the most powerful Anti-Histamines available.
The active ingredient of Kirkland Signature is Doxylamine, a very strong anti-histamine sedative. Keep in mind, however, that Kirkland Signature is extremely potent, so even after 8-hours of sleep, you will still feel a bit drowsy. Therefore, it is not quite effective if you are looking for a quick deep sleep to get up quickly the next day.
As with most anti-histamines, you should avoid Kirkland Signature as a routine usage, and only use if for a short-term, emergency aid on severe insomnia or sleep apnea.
Image Credit: Amazon
Source Natural is a relatively strong, fast-acting melatonin-based over the counter sleep aids, made by a trustworthy company with great reputation.
They can easily dissolve under the tongue, so it is a good option for those with difficulty swallowing pills. One thing to keep in mind about melatonin-based over the counter sleep aids is that they might not be effective in treating severe cases of insomnia, and will differ with each individual. However, they can be effective with jet lag, delayed sleep phase, and changes of work shifts.
If you are looking for a fast-acting sleep aid, Source Naturals is a great option for you.
3. Unisom Sleepgels
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Unisom Sleepgels contain a different type of anti-histamine ingredients compared to the Kirkland Signature, which is milder -and relatively safer-. There are 3 versions of Unisom Sleepgels available in the market: SleepGels, SleepTabs, and QuickMelts, the main differences are how quickly they are absorbed (the QuickMelts), and whether they contain 25mg or 50 mg.
Unisom, as mentioned, is milder than Kirkland, but it also won’t cause much drowsiness the next day. Therefore, it can be effective if you just a little help to sleep and get up early the next day.
As usual, it is possible to build tolerance with Unisom as an antihistamine sleep aid, so use with care and don’t increase the dosage.
4. Zenwise Labs Sleep Support
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Zenwise Labs Sleep Support is one of the relatively strong sleep aids that does not belong to the anti-histamine category. Zenwise Labs Sleep Supports contain a wide range of ingredients from melatonin, L-Theanine (commonly found in green tea), Chamomile, Valerian, 5-HTP, and GABA. Considering several herbal sleep aid ingredients will work better for some people than the others, chances are, one of these ingredients will do the trick for you.
Although it can be effective, there are some considerations you should have. 6 mg of Melatonin is relatively high since 3mg is the standard dose, although it is not necessarily dangerous dosage, you should keep that in mind.
Also, it might be too strong for some people, so try half a dose to start with it.
Image Credit: Amazon
LUNA is relatively similar to Zenwise Labs Sleep Support discussed above, including a wide range of ingredients like L-Theanine, Valerian and Chamomile extract, and 3 mg Melatonin, but also includes other herbal ingredients such as lemon balm, hops, and passion flower extracts.
One thing that might interest you is that LUNA is promoted to be completely vegan, so it might interest you if you are on a vegan diet. LUNA is relatively more subtle than Zenwise Labs Sleep Support, so it is a good alternative for those looking for a lighter sleep aid with virtually no side effects.
The effect it provides might not be fast-acting, and you will need up to 30-minutes before feeling the relaxation, so make sure to avoid any activities after consumption to make the most of it.