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How do I Choose the Best Nighttime Sleep Aid?

Lainie Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Getting a good night's sleep is important, so if you're having trouble sleeping, taking a nighttime sleep aid can help. Before you make your decision, it is a good idea to ask your doctor for guidance. She can let you know if any of your medications might interact with a nighttime sleep aid or whether you have a medical condition that could make taking a sleeping pill dangerous. Your doctor can also work with you to figure out ways to manage your condition, monitor your overall health, and, if necessary, prescribe a sleep aid that is more effective than over-the-counter options. If you decide to take an over-the-counter sleep aid or a nutritional supplement, be sure to read label warnings and take your lifestyle into consideration before buying.

Over-the-counter sleep aids typically list an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine, as one of the active ingredients. Antihistamines typically make people drowsy, and this side effect is often listed on allergy medications that also include antihistamines. In general, this type of sleep aid is suitable for people who suffer only from mild and occasional insomnia. Be aware of other drugs or medications that could potentially amplify the effects of an antihistamine sleep aid. If you are taking allergy medication or a nighttime pain reliever or cold medicine, you are likely already taking antihistamines and may be at risk of an overdose. Use discretion when selecting an antihistamine nighttime sleep aid, as it may carry with it the risk of residual drowsiness during the day and could interfere with driving, caring for small children, or operating machinery.

Herbal and nutritional supplements are popular alternatives to over-the-counter preparations and work well for some people. Many people swear by chamomile tea as a nighttime sleep aid, while others use valerian root to achieve a similar effect. If anxiety is causing insomnia, kava root may be effective in helping you to calm down in the evenings. Another popular nighttime sleep aid, melatonin, is not an herb, but a hormone that can help with sleep. These supplements and herbs all have potential side effects, however. Chamomile and melatonin may cause excessive bleeding in people who are taking blood thinners, kava may be connected to liver problems in people who drink alcohol or use other medications, and there is always a risk of an allergic reaction with herbs.

If you are coping with long-term insomnia, most over-the-counter pills and supplements won't help you. You may need to ask your doctor for a prescription nighttime sleep aid, which should be used in conjunction with a plan to help you overcome insomnia without the use of drugs. The trouble with prescription medications is that they can have some fairly significant side effects, such as hallucinations, sleepwalking, and a decrease in sex drive. However, if your insomnia is severely affecting your life, you may find that living with the side effects of medication is better than having to cope with chronic sleep deprivation.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.
Discussion Comments
By Raynbow — On Mar 26, 2014

@heavanet- That is a good point that people who are considering taking sleep aids should consider. I use to take melatonin for a sleep aid, and it made me feel very groggy the next day. My doctor recommended only taking it for a few weeks in order to adjust my sleeping patterns instead of taking it on a long-term basis.

If you are considering melatonin or any other sleep aid, I think seeking medical advice first is the best decision to make sure you are taking the best aid for you. It is also important to make sure you are taking the correct dosage from a qualified medical provider.

By Heavanet — On Mar 25, 2014

If you decide that a nighttime sleep aid is the best option for you to get a good night's rest, it is a good idea to see how you are going to react to it. If possible, take the sleep aid on a night that you don't have to get up early or when you don't have important work to do the next day.

Sleep aids often cause continued drowsiness the following morning for some people. This could make tasks such as driving or working difficult until you determine what side effects you should except from the medication.

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
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