Insomnia is becoming a serious problem for the people of the U.S. and over a third of Americans aren’t getting enough daily sleep. This has significantly increased the use of over the counter sleep aids for insomnia which poses a significant threat of drug dependency among sleep medicine users. The gist of the matter is that insomnia is a major issue that should be treated and using even some of the best over the counter sleep aids may not be a viable solution.

So this article will talk about different types of sleep medicines, sleeping pills side effects, how to safely take mild or even strong sleeping pills, are sleeping pills safe, best over the counter sleeping pills name, behavioral tips for treating insomnia naturally and many more critical topics. So without further ado, let’s get started:

Types of Sleep Medicine:

Prescription Sleep Medicine:

If you have tried different behavioral and environmental changes (you can find some useful tips on them at the end of this article), and nothing seems to work for you, then you will obviously head to a doctor. And that doctor may suggest you some sleep medicines.

So simply put, the sleep medicine(s) that the doctor will prescribe you, will be called prescription sleep medicines. The doctor will take various factors into account like your age, lifestyle, health and any possible underlying cause for your sleeplessness before prescribing you light, mild or strong sleeping pills.

Without going into detail about different sleeping pills name, just know that these sleep medicines work in different ways. Often times they slow down your brain activity or block chemicals that stimulate your brain so you can get restful sleep.

Natural Sleep Aids:

As the name suggests, these sleep aids only utilize natural ingredients for the creation of supplements that promote sleep. Though there are no best sleeping pills because everyone has different problems, the common sleep aids that are used include Valerian root and Melatonin.

Both of these are used for temporary sleep problems arising from switching shift schedules at work or jet lag. The melatonin hormone regulates the sleep-wake cycle of your body while the Valerian root reduces your anxiety to help you relax while you prepare for sleep.

However, please keep in mind that natural sleep aids are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Therefore, do your research on ingredients that are present in natural sleep aids and discuss your options with your physician.

Sleeping Pills Over The Counter:

Over the counter sleep aids are the mild or sometimes, strong sleeping pills that are commercially available for everyone to purchase at any pharmacy without showing any prescription. Without going into the detail of over the counter sleeping pills name, you should just know that many of them use antihistamines. It is a common ingredient present in cold medicines that increases drowsiness.

In fact, the main function of many over the counter sleep medicines is not to promote sleep, but sleepiness occurs as a beneficial side effect. So these OTCs work best if you are not able to sleep due to allergies or cold. It is also crucial to note that taking too much over the counter sleep aids can make you develop a tolerance for them.

This means that the more you will take these sleeping pills over the time, their effect will become weaker on you and the more pills you will need to get equivalent results. And they can also become a habit if you continue to take them over time.

This is the reason that all of the sleep aids for insomnia, whether natural, prescribed or OTC are considered short term solutions. So it is always better to consult with your doctor for the long-term use.

Sleeping Pills Over the Counter – How They Work?

As mentioned before, OTC sleep medicines do not require you to get a prescription from a doctor like the prescribed medicines, so you can easily get them from your local drugstore. Now if we talk about how over the counter sleep aids for insomnia or any other sleeplessness causing issue work, then you already know that they contain antihistamines.

These antihistamines containing OTCs are the only FDA approved sleep medications. They work by reducing the number of histamines that are released into your bloodstream. And as a result, your body feels sleepy. Though it is already mentioned above that you should not abuse OTCs; it is important to repeat it here so you can know how serious it can be to abuse them.

You should never take them longer than a few days without the permission of your doctor, or you may develop a tolerance to them. And as a result, they will eventually stop working, and you will not fall asleep easily.

Though there are many over the counter sleeping pills name available in the market, they are generally categorized into two types:

  • Diphenhydramine: It is the primary ingredient in many over the counter sleep aids such as ZzzQuil, Unisom SleepGels. It is also found in the pain relief/sleep aid medications like Tylenol PM or Aleve PM.
  • Doxylamine Succinate: It is also the main ingredient and found in many over the counter sleeping pills name like Kirkland Signature Sleep aid and Unisom SleepTabs.

Though there are other different ingredients in OTC sleep aids, these two are the main ones that cause sleep regulation.

Sleep Aids for Insomnia – Are They Effective?

When it comes to over the counter sleep aids for insomnia, Diphenhydramine, that is discussed above, can be effective, but, on the short term use. Though it is taken mostly for allergy symptoms, its side effect is drowsiness which is why Diphenhydramine containing over the counter sleep aids for insomnia are used by many people. So to answer the aforementioned question “Sleep Aids for Insomnia, are they effective?” Yes, they are useful but only for those who have mild and infrequent insomnia.

Those who have persistent insomnia, should not use over the counter sleeping aids because they can build tolerance and then it will not be effective anymore. Also, there is not much data to support that Diphenhydramine is very effective in providing people with good sleep, so you will only know when you try it.

Furthermore, it can cause unwanted sleepiness in the morning that can hinder your office work and may also be dangerous when driving. So to sum up, over the counter sleep aids for insomnia are only useful if used for short term and infrequent insomnia otherwise they can be dangerous.

Over the Counter Sleep Aids and Long Term Use:

As mentioned above, OTC sleep aids are designed to help you sleep in temporary situations when you are having difficulty sleeping naturally. Keep in mind that even the best over the counter sleep aids will not be able to cure chronic insomnia. There is no doubt that sleep aids for insomnia are effective if it is short termed and infrequent, but that also makes them potentially addictive on a long term use.

If a user relies on these sleeping aids to fall asleep instead of adjusting their sleeping behavior or lifestyle or treating the underlying health condition causing insomnia, they will always find it troublesome to sleep. Furthermore, the long term use of over the counter sleep aids will not only cause their insomnia to persist; the user may start to experience some unfortunate side effects that are discussed later in this article.

So instead of using the over the counter sleep aids as a short term solution to a long term problem like insomnia, the more sustainable and healthier approach is to change the lifestyle and behavior to get better sleep. Surprisingly, just a few changes in lifestyle and behavior can lead to treating insomnia for a majority of people. You will find these lifestyle and behavior changing tips later in this article.

Are Over the Counter Sleep Aids Safe?

Over the counter sleep aids are generally considered safe for short term use. But when people start to misuse them especially by using them for the long term, they can become very dangerous. And unfortunately, a vast number of people rely on sleep aids.

Around 20% of people take sleep aids to fall asleep every night. And this number is even higher in adults between age 65 and 80. Due to the fact that these sleep aids are not as addictive in the way some drugs are, FDA allows the use of over the counter sleep aids under the label “non-habit forming” but that is only if they are used safely and not overused.

But due to the fact that people are not using sleep medicines safely, researchers are concerned about the risk of people getting dependent on these drugs.

Sleeping Pills Side Effects:

Whether you take mild or strong sleeping pills, you can still experience some side effects. And even though you may take them for a short period and on an infrequent basis, you can still experience sleeping pills side effects that make them unsafe for some people. However, over the counter sleep aids have fewer side effects than the prescription pills, but you still need to know about them before you think about taking them. Some sleeping pills side effects are:

  • You can get the hangover effect that can cause moderate or severe drowsiness during the day time. This one is the most common side effect
  • You can get the feeling of dizziness or not being able to balance yourself properly
  • You may start to become forgetful
  • Headaches are also a possibility
  • Dry eyes or blurred vision
  • You can also get urinary retention or constipation
  • The feeling of nausea is also possible
  • Dry nose, throat or mouth

So these are some of the most common over the counter sleeping pills side effects that you can experience. However, it is not necessary that you get all or any of these side effects if you use them a few times. But there is also a possibility of them occurring, so it better that you consult with your physician before trying anything by yourself.

Over the Counter Sleep Aids: When to Avoid Them?

There are some situations when the use of over the counter sleep aids can be very dangerous for some certain groups of people. If you are among any of the following groups, you should avoid sleep aids, but if you cannot do that then it is strongly recommended that you consult with your doctor before using them:

People on Other Medication:

If you have any chronic condition and you take medication on a daily basis to manage it, you will have to consult with your doctor who knows your history before taking any over the counter sleep aids. The reason for doing that is to make sure that the ingredients of the medication you are already taking and the ingredients of the sleep aids do not negatively interact with each other.

Some of the chronic conditions that pose greater risk of drug interaction include sleep apnea, asthma or any other chronic lung disease, severe liver disease, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, urinary retention or problems arising due to an enlarged prostate.

So it is best to talk to your doctor if you have any chronic conditions so that he/she can suggest a healthy option or an optimal treatment for your sleep problems.


Depending on the age, children have different physiologies than the adults, and generally, most of the over the counter sleep aids should not be given to children younger than 12 years old. If children are given the same medication dosage as adults, it can be very unsafe and may also lead to overdosing. Doctors recommend that even the dosage of natural sleep aids like melatonin should be adjusted when given to children.

Also, unlike adults, children can have different types of issues that may be resulting in insomnia like nightmares, sleepwalking, and fear of dark or problems at school. So their sleep aids for insomnia may be different than adults.

Pregnant Women:

A pregnant woman’s body goes through extreme changes that can impact on sleep and make it difficult to achieve restful sleep. Though getting a good amount of sleep daily is crucial for a pregnant woman, the physical and hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy can increase the risk of the mother having adverse side effects from OTC sleep medicines. It is imperative that you always consult with your doctor before taking any sleep medication even natural sleep aids.

People With Sickness:

If you have a temporary sickness and are taking OTCs to treat your condition, then the sleep medication can interact with them in a negative way. The reason for this is because most of the over the counter sleep aids contain antihistamines and if you are taking medicine for conditions like cold or allergy then you will also be taking antihistamines. So this can result in an overdose of antihistamines causing adverse side effects.

Therefore, it is best if you avoid taking sleep aids when you are taking other OTCs to treat your temporary sickness. But if you really want to take them, it is strongly recommended that you take permission from your doctor before even trying them.

How to Take Over the Counter Sleep Aids Safely?

When you use over the counter sleep aids, you should implement the below-given tips to make sure you take them safely:

Always See Your Doctor First: Though we have mentioned it several times in this article, due to the fact that sleeping pills affect your brain, this point cannot be stressed enough. Taking whether mild or strong sleeping pills is not something to be taken lightly. There can be various complications, and your doctor will be in the best position to make a recommendation on the best over the counter sleep aids for you.
Remember the Precautions: The two main ingredients that are present in the over the counter sleep aids; Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine are not recommended in some conditions. These conditions include asthma, closed-angle glaucoma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe liver disease, sleep apnea, urinary retention or digestive system obstruction. Furthermore, as mentioned above, sleep aids should not be given to pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, people who are taking medications or people with the age of 75 or over.
Use on a Temporary Basis: The use of over the counter sleep aids for insomnia should only be used on a temporary basis and not for more than two weeks. They will not benefit in chronic insomnia and may only make things worse.
Never Mix with Alcohol: Never mix your sleep aids of any type with alcohol. Alcohol increases the sedative effects of sleep medicines.
Keep Side Effects in Mind: Do not drive or engage in other activities requiring you to be fully awake and alert while you are using sleep aids.
So these are some of the precautions that you need to pay attention to. Make sure to always contact your doctor to discuss different sleep aids for insomnia and how you can treat it.

Tips for Sleep Improvement:

  • Create a Relaxing Environment: When it is time for sleep, create a relaxing and peaceful environment in your bedroom. Set the temperature in low to mid 60 degrees Fahrenheit, make your bedroom dark and as quiet as possible.
  • Be consistent: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. Make sure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep in that time.
  • Reserve for Sleep: Your goal is to train your mind to reserve your bedroom for sleep and pleasure only so when you enter your bedroom, you automatically start to feel drowsy.
    Relaxation Techniques: Before going to bed, practice some relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation to physically relax your body.
    Develop a Bedtime Routine: Complete the same set of activities every night 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed. These things can include a warm bath, brushing your teeth or the relaxation techniques. These things upon becoming your routine will help your mind prepare for sleep.
  • Avoid Electronics: Avoid the use of electronics like TV, mobile phone, and laptop etc. at least one hour before your bedtime. The blue light in these devices is perceived very strongly by your brain receptors, and as a result, your brain keeps you awake.
    Get Natural Light and
  • Exercise: Try to get natural sunlight to get a boost of energy during the day so as the sun lowers, your brain starts to recognize this change and prepare you for sleep. Also, do exercise in the day time, so your body gets tired when its evening and starts to produce melatonin to help you fall asleep.
    Cognitive Behavioral
  • Therapy: If even some of the best over the counter sleep aids for insomnia don’t work and the aforementioned techniques don’t prove to be effective as well, then you should try cognitive behavioral therapy. A specially trained therapist will help you understand the behaviors and thoughts that you should engage in to inhibit sleep and treat insomnia naturally.

Best Over the Counter Sleep Aids – Our Picks:

So now that you know pretty much all of the crucial things about sleep medicines and particularly over the counter sleep aids, it is time that we tell you the best over the counter sleep aids that we have picked just for our readers. So without further ado, let’s have a look:

Kirkland Signature Sleep Aid:

This one contains the active ingredient; Doxylamine Succinate within a quality of 25mg. The total count of tablets in the bottle is 96. When it comes to its dosage, you can take one tablet orally just 30 minutes before you go to bed. Some of its potential side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness

Unisom Sleep Gels:

This is another one of the best over the counter sleep aids, and it contains Diphenhydramine HCl with a quantity of 50 mg. The total count of SoftGels in its pack is 60, and the dosage is the same as the Kirkland sleep aid; one SoftGel taken orally 30 minutes before bed. Some possible side effects include:

  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred Vision or Dry
  • Eyes
  • Daytime Drowsiness
  • Upset Stomach or
  • Constipation
  • Loss of Coordination

Unisom Sleeptabs:

Another addition by Unisom to our list of the best over the counter sleep aids. It contains Doxylamine Succinate as the active ingredient within the quantity of 25 mg. The total count of tablets in one pack is 80, and one tablet should be taken at least 30 minutes before bed. Some side effects include:

  • Dizziness or Drowsiness
  • Dry Mouth
  • Constipation
  • Blurred Vision
  • Vicks ZzzQuil Nighttime

Sleep Aid:

This one contains Diphenhydramine HCl 25mg as its active ingredient, and the total count of liquicaps that it contains is 48. Also, its dose is a bit different, you should take 2 LiquiCaps at least 30 minutes before hitting the bed which will make it 50mg of total dose. Some side effects can be:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred Vision or Dry
  • Eyes
  • Loss of Coordination
  • Dry Mouth
  • Daytime Drowsiness
  • Upset Stomach or
  • Constipation


So this is all that you should know to get the basic idea of what types of sleeping pills are available, what sleeping pills side effects are and some of the best over the counter sleep aids in 2019. Please keep in mind that sleeping pills are not the long term solution and should not be used for longer periods.

Also, make sure to conduct your research regarding the sleeping medicines you want to use from our picks to know if they are best for you or not.

Furthermore, this guide is prepared for the sole purpose of providing knowledge and not recommending anything. So it is strongly suggested that you always contact your physician before using any sleeping aids.