The focus of this article is primarily on over-the-counter sleep aids. It is common knowledge that labels can be misleading, this is true for all labeling including over-the-counter medications like sleep aids. I worked in a pharmacy for over a year and my patients seemed to be constantly unaware of the truth behind sleep aids. First, if you are thinking about taking a sleep aid you should consult a doctor with a list of any medications you might be taking including herbal medications. Sleep aids are not recommended or limited to people with these conditions: glaucoma, trouble urinating or frequent urination, depression or breathing problems like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. In addition to reactions with certain conditions, sleep aids can cause bad reactions to certain medication like pain killers for example. After your doctor gives you the okay to take over-the-counter sleep aids you have a few active ingredients to choose from.
This is an antihistamine also known as Benadryl. Sleep aids like ZzzQuil include this active ingredient.
This is also an antihistamine and is similar to diphenhydramine. Most of the Nyquil brand has this active ingredient in it.
There are several different active ingredients that fall under the herbal/natural class of over-the-counter sleep aids, some include: melatonin, chamomile, St. John’s Wort and lavender. These sleep aids can have severe side effects with prescribed medication so make sure you consult a doctor first before taking them. According to a non-profit resource called Help Guide, “St. John’s Wort, for example, can limit the effectiveness of many prescribed medications such as blood thinners, birth control pills, and some anticancer medications.” Melatonin was my favorite because it is actually a hormone that our body produces at night to fall asleep and then lessens upon daytime to wake up.
The problem with sleep aids is that they can actually mask the real problem behind not being able to fall asleep. They are not a long term solution to insomnia. After taking a sleep aid you can experience daytime drowsiness, dizziness, loss of memory and even headaches. In addition to building a tolerance, an extended period of time on sleep aids can cause withdrawal symptoms when discontinued and bring back any underlying sleep problems.
The source of information I used for this article is HelpGuide.com, they go into detail about different types of sleep aids including the ones that are prescription only. Visit the article to read about healthy alternatives to sleep aids.