The 9 Best Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids 2020

best otc sleep aids

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Having trouble falling asleep? Waking up often during the night? Are you experiencing jet-lag? These are all potential reasons to prevent you from getting a restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep. When experiencing temporary and mild sleep disturbances like insomnia, over the counter (OTC) sleep aids may be an option for you.

OTC sleep aids are meant to be temporary and should not be taken over an extended period of time. Some of them are natural and contain ingredients like melatonin while others contain medicine like anti-histamines. Not all OTC sleep pills are as strong as prescribed sleeping medication but can be just as effective to help you fall asleep and stay asleep in periods of temporary sleep disturbances. 

Let’s take a look at the best OTC sleeping pills and sleeping aids on the market today. We always highly recommend reviewing your remedy options with your doctor or health care professional, even if they are widely available as an over the counter option. 

What Are Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids?

The most common ingredients found in OTC sleeping pills are anti-histamines and Diphenhydramine. These are sedatives that help create drowsiness and can keep users asleep for a longer period of time. They don’t normally cause any serious side-effects, but they may become ineffective over time. The user’s body creates tolerance against the medicine if it is regularly ingested and as a result, it becomes less effective. 

Other common ingredients in OTC sleeping pills are melatonin and Valerian root. Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that helps our bodies regulate sleep and wake schedules. It is secreted in the evening when the body starts to get ready for sleep. Melatonin supplements may help prepare your body for sleep if your body is not creating enough of the hormone. The Valerian root has calming and relaxing properties and is often added to natural sleep aids.

When to Use Sleeping Pills?

It’s important to try to find the source or the reason why you are having difficulty falling asleep. This can help you make positive changes to alleviate your symptoms and also to aid you to find the best sleeping pills for your particular situation. 

If you are experiencing temporary sleep disruption due to stress, anxiety, or jet-lag, an OTC sleeping aid may be what you need. It’s recommended to use OTC sleeping pills no longer than 2 weeks. If you have been dealing with sleep issues for more than three weeks, a doctor’s visit may be something to envision. Generally speaking, it is always best if you can naturally resolve your issue than relying on supplements and medicine. Things like a sleep routine, meditation, healthy eating, and a sleep schedule can dramatically help you with your sleep quality. 

Best OTC Sleep Aids

Anti-histamines/Diphenhydramine

These are the best sleeping pills available without a prescription. They often contain some  combination of medicines to help provoke drowsiness. They may also cause grogginess in the morning for some users. 

Kirkland Sleep Aid

This is one of the most popular OTC sleep aids on the market today. It promises to be effective for most users with limited  morning grogginess as compared to other popular sleeping pills. It contains 25 mg of Doxylamine Succinate to induce drowsiness before bedtime.

“This stuff helps me sleep soundly every night. My doctor said it was safe to take everyday..and I do I'm 69.” - Linda Wilson

 

Unisom

Unisom is a 50 mg Diphenhydramine HCl gel tablet that claims to put you to sleep after ingestion and keep you from waking up during the night. 

“Knocks me out' if I can't sleep so it does EXACTLY what I want it to do.” - Shannahan

 

ZzzQuil

ZzzQuil Liquid sleep-aid is a great alternative if taking tablets or pills is difficult for you. It contains Diphenhydramine HCI to induce sleepiness . According to NyQuil Diphenhydramine HCI is non-habit forming and prevents grogginess in the morning, assuring that you had a full 7-8 hours sleep.

“I have severe insomnia and can't sleep without this stuff! Love that I don't wake up feeling groggy.” - Angela Davis

 

Tylenol PM

From the popular brand Tylenol comes a familiar sleeping aid. It contains Diphenhydramine HCI to help get you to sleep. It also contains Acetaminophen for those minor aches and pains. 

“I have problems with getting back to sleep if I get up in the night. With this Tylenol PM, I can get right back to sleep and I'm not feeling drugged in the morning.” - BCfred

 

Advil PM

 

If minor pains are the reason why you can’t sleep, Advil PM could be your best option as it contains Ibuprofen and Diphenhydramine. These two ingredients work together to relieve minor pain that might keep you up and help your body get the restorative sleep it needs.

“Great sleep aid + combo pain killer! I take one and can usually fall asleep shortly thereafter.” - Audrey

 

Simply Sleep

From the same makers of Extra Strength Tylenol PM, each caplet of Simply Sleep contains 25 mg diphenhydramine HCl to help you get a good night's sleep. It is an alternative for Tylenol PM and does not contain the pain relief agent. 

“The one plus is, there is no pain reliever in the ingredients; so if your problem is just going to sleep, you are not consuming any unneeded ingredients.” - Susan

 

Sominex

 

Similar to other sleep aids, Sominex has diphenhydramine HCl 25 mg in each caplet. The brand claims to provide a restful sleep with less “brain fog” or grigginess that can occur with sleep aids.

 

Melatonin/Natural

Before using OTC options you should consider using natural solutions. Natural ingredients tend to have less side effects on our bodies and on our alertness in the morning. 

Wild Thera

This is a balm that you apply to your temples, forehead, and upper lip before bed to help you relax. It contains natural herbs and essential oils to calm the mind and body and also helps clear your airways and get you ready for sleep. This balm is all natural and is a perfect alternative for you If you prefer not to take pills or any form of medication. 

“I fall asleep quicker and sleep harder. My daughter even tried it and said the same thing!” -Leslie

 

Alteril

Alteril is an all natural dietary supplement containing melatonin, Valerian root, and other calming and relaxing ingredients. Similar to Wild Thera, the fact that it is a natural sleep aid makes it one of the prefered options.  

 “Best sleep medicine for night owls!” - TheeJman 

Which is the Right OTC Sleep Aid for Me?

Depending on the severity of your insomnia and sleep issues, OTC sleeping aids may be a fast and effective solution for you. If your symptoms are mild and not constant, you may consider a natural solution as your best sleep aid. If you are struggling with recurrent periods of restlessness and insomnia, you may want to reach for the more active medicines like antihistamines. 

 Consult with a doctor preferably before you use any supplements or remedies and certainly if your sleep irregularity and symptoms persist and are not alleviated by OTC sleeping aids. 

Side Effects and Risks

OTC sleeping aids don’t normally cause serious side effects or create any physical dependency concerns like prescription pills do. However, there can certainly be a risk for psychological dependency. Besides, OTC sleeping pills may become ineffective as your body builds tolerance if taken over a long period of time. They are not meant to cure insomnia, but to help reduce unpleasant symptoms of temporary sleep problems. Also, make sure to provide 7-8 hours of sleep time if you take sleeping pills. This will help reduce grogginess in the morning. The best sleep aid for you should have the least side effects on your energy levels in the morning and allow you to get sleep that feels natural and restful.  

Remember that sleeping aids are not a cure for certain serious sleep problems. They may mask and provide temporary relief, but if symptoms worsen or do not resolve, talk with your primary caregiver to go over your options.

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