Sleeping aids: Understand over-the-counter options
Trouble sleeping? Over-the-counter sleep aids might help temporarily — but lifestyle changes are usually the best approach for chronic insomnia.
You've followed the usual tips for getting enough sleep — sleeping on a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, exercising regularly, and managing stress. Still, it's been weeks and a good night's sleep remains elusive. Is it time for an over-the-counter sleep aid? Here's what you need to know if you're considering medication to help you sleep.
Sleep aids: Not a magic cure
Over-the-counter sleep aids can be effective for an occasional sleepless night. There are a few caveats, however.
Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines can develop quickly — so the longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy.
In addition, some over-the-counter sleep aids can leave you feeling groggy and unwell the next day. This is the so-called hangover effect.
Medication interactions are possible as well, and much remains unknown about the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter sleep aids.
Sleep aids: The options
Over-the-counter sleep aids are widely available. Common choices and the potential side effects include:
Store brands containing the same active ingredients as brand-name sleep aids are commonly available, too.
Store brands have the same risks and benefits as their brand-name counterparts, often at a more reasonable cost.
When using over-the-counter sleep aids, follow these steps:
Everyone benefits from a good night's sleep. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, consult your doctor for additional help. In addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor might recommend behavior therapy to help you learn new sleep habits and ways to make your sleeping environment more conducive to sleep. In some cases, short-term use of prescription sleep aids might be recommended as well.
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