Did you know sleep is as important for good health as diet and exercise? Waking up from a great night of sleep helps you feel rested, alert, and ready to tackle the day. Getting the right amount of sleep for your mind and body can help:
- maintain critical body functions
- restore energy
- repair muscle tissue
- allow the brain to process new information
On the flip side, not getting enough sleep can raise health risks, ranging from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than one-third of adults aren’t getting enough sleep and feel tired during the day at least half the week or more. Plus, about 40 million Americans experience insomnia every year. Lack of sleep can cause a range of mental and physical problems, including impairing your ability to:
- think clearly
- control emotions
What can you do if you’re having trouble sleeping? Many people turn to sleep aids to fall asleep more quickly and get a good night’s rest. Some sleep aids require a doctor’s prescription; however, many people turn to products available over the counter (OTC) without a prescription and can be used to manage occasional sleep issues.
Sleep Aids or Sleep Support
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications
OTC medicines to treat sleep problems might be most useful for people with short-term problems, such as jet lag, stress, or occasional bouts of sleeplessness. These medicines are designed to help you fall asleep or stay asleep and are for people aged 12 and above.
Common OTC sleeping pills help regulate your sleep-wake cycle with low doses of antihistamines, which can make you feel drowsy by working against a chemical produced by the central nervous system (histamine). These medicines include:
- Sominex®, Advil® PM, Excedrin® PM, Nytol, Tylenol® PM, Aleve® PM, and Vicks® ZzzQuil
- Doxylamine succinate
- Unisom SleepTabs, Medi-Sleep, Vicks® ZzzQuil ULTRA, and Good Sense Sleep Aid
These ingredients may be in a combination product with several other ingredients to treat different symptoms (like cold or flu), so reading and following the medicine label is important to make sure you are taking it correctly and safely.
Melatonin is a hormone produced deep in the brain that plays a major role in regulating your sleep/wake cycle. When it’s dark outside your body produces and releases melatonin. When it’s light outside, your melatonin production is reduced. Melatonin acts as a chemical messenger to tell other parts of your body that it’s time for bed. Melatonin supplements taken before bed may help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep, especially with changing time zones or work schedules, and other unplanned sleep disruptions. Studies show that short-term use of melatonin supplements is safe for most people, however, if sleep problems persist melatonin is not recommended as a long-term solution.
Common melatonin brands include Nature’s Bounty, Solgar, Vicks® Zzzquil PURE Zzzs, and Midnite Sleep Health.
Before managing your sleep problems on your own, make sure to talk with your healthcare provider about all the options, as well as any other medications or supplements that you might be taking. There are numerous reasons for sleep problems, ranging from short-term stressors to serious, long-term sleep disorders. Your doctor can help find the right solution for you.
There are also simple lifestyle changes that may improve sleep quality, especially if you make them part of your daily routine.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake at night. These substances disrupt sleep and result in bathroom trips at night, which interferes with deep sleep.
- Blue light from phones and electronics hits your eyes at night and can block the signals to your brain to start making melatonin. This interferes with the natural sleep/wake cycle. Turn off gadgets at bedtime, dim their brightness, and stop using them 2-3 hours before bed. Don’t take your phone to bed with you!
- Create a sleep-friendly bedroom including a cool, dark, quiet room with a comfortable mattress to help you sleep well.
- Maintain a regular bedtime and waketime to improve your sleep.
Safe use tips for sleep aids
Always read and follow the label when taking a sleep medicine.
Do not give OTC sleep medicines containing doxylamine or diphenhydramine to children under 12 years of age.
For liquid products, use the measuring tool that came with the medication.
Do not combine sleep medicines with alcohol.
Don’t drive a car or operate machinery after taking any kind of sleep medicine.
Consult your doctor before using a new sleep medicine or dietary supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.