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What are the Different Types of over-The-Counter Sleep Aids?

By N. Ayers
Updated May 17, 2024
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The different types of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids include antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and doxylamine. These varieties are often available in pill form and may be taken orally. Homeopathic sleeping pills include more natural supplements that may be used as an alternative for mild sleep problems. Additional types of OTC sleep inducers, including herbal solutions, may also be available.

Sleeping pills are among the most often used types of over-the-counter sleep aids. Both name brand and generic sleeping pills are made with antihistamines. Diphenhydramine hydrochloride is one of the antihistamines used in some over-the-counter sleep aids, while other varieties contain doxylamine succinate. Some brands also offer pills that combine antihistamines with acetaminophen for pain relief.

Liquid over-the-counter sleep aids are also available to assist those who experience difficulty sleeping. These sleep aids are often used in medications that treat minor cold and cough symptoms, and usually combine antihistamines with alcohol. Sleeping pills and other types of OTC sleep inducers that contain antihistamines may have side effects, however. They may affect the users' ability to operate motor vehicles or to perform tasks at work.

Natural over-the-counter sleep aids include herbal and hormonal supplements such as melatonin, valerian root, passionflower, humulus lupulus, and chamomile. These dietary supplements are available in pill, capsule, or tablet form. Melatonin supplements contain manufactured versions of this natural hormone, which is responsible for regulating the body's internal clock.

Some brand name natural sleeping aid products contain a mixture of herbs. These mixtures are classified as homeopathic sleep aids because they cause fewer side effects than prescription pills and over-the-counter antihistamines. Chamomile tea is another over-the-counter sleep aid that is often purchased as a natural remedy for difficulty sleeping.

While herbal supplements and teas are among the safer homeopathic sleep aids, they do sometimes cause some side effects that can be serious. These side effects tend to occur when natural sleeping aids are not taken in moderation. Some doctors recommend only taking low doses of herbal over-the-counter sleep aids in order to prevent side effects.

OTC sleep inducers are usually most effective when taken occasionally or for short periods of time, such as once a week. Some users of sleeping pills or other sleep inducing products may develop a tolerance for these medications. This may cause users to require a higher dosage of over-the-counter sleep aid in order for it to be effective. Higher dosages can increase the risk of experiencing side effects.

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Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Oct 21, 2014

In many cases, trouble falling asleep at bedtime is related to mental or emotional issues. Simply learning to relax and wind down an hour or so before bed might help.

I like to meditate before I go to bed. I know everyone is not into meditation, so read a book, listen to relaxing music or watch a relaxing TV program. What you do doesn't make a big difference as long as it helps you relax. That's the goal.

By Laotionne — On Oct 20, 2014

When I had a really bad cold a few years back and was having trouble getting to sleep because of all the coughing and sneezing, I went to the drug store to find something that might help me deal with the symptoms. There were so many different products that I couldn't figure out which one to pick. After about 30 minutes of reading labels, I just asked the pharmacist what she thought was the best of the products.

She told me to buy one of the liquid nighttime medicines. When I got home and took the medicine that night I was coughing, sneezing and just feeling all around bad. When I woke up, it was the next afternoon. I had slept over 12 hours without waking. I felt drowsy when I woke, but I certainly didn't have any trouble sleeping.

By Feryll — On Oct 19, 2014

I don't have trouble sleeping. I am usually asleep before my head hits the pillow as the saying goes. However, my girlfriend can't say the same thing. He goes through stretches where she tosses and turns and has a tough time falling asleep. As if this isn't bad enough, even when she finally gets to sleep she doesn't have a restful night's sleep.

When she wakes in the morning she is as tired as she was when she got in bed the previous night. I am always suggesting to her that she workout more during the day. One of the reasons I have no trouble falling asleep is that I am very active during the day.

I play sports, I lift weights, I ride my bike and the list goes on. I do these activities because I enjoy them. Being able to fall asleep at night is just an added benefit of the exercise.

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