About Over-the-Counter Sleep Pills

If you're thinking about popping a pill to catch some zzzs, make sure you know what you're taking

Counted your fair share of sheep, without any results? A sleeping aid could help, but be careful what you take

Need help falling asleep? Do the research before you take an over-the-counter sleeping pill

For occasional insomnia, people sometimes turn to over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids, but what’s in these drugs?

The most common active ingredient in OTC sleep medications is diphenhydramine, which is an antihistamine. A leading ingredient in allergy medications, diphenhydramine is also known for its drowsiness-causing effect.

While OTC sleep aids are generally safe and effective for managing occasional sleeplessness, it’s important to beware of potential side-effects that include grogginess and fatigue the next day, dry mouth, forgetfulness and confusion, and possible irregular heartbeat.

Talk to a Professional about Sleeping Aids

Before buying an OTC sleep aid, talk to the pharmacist, as certain medicinal ingredients can interfere with other drugs you may be taking. Also, take them only as directed, especially if you’re taking other medications or you suffer from a chronic illness.

Another common OTC sleep aid is melatonin, a hormone that helps control the natural sleep/wake cycle. Melatonin supplements may be helpful in reducing the time needed to fall asleep. The possible side-effects of melatonin include daytime sleepiness, confusion and dizziness, headache, abdominal discomfort and irritability.

Although solving your sleep problems with a pill may sound tempting, it’s not the best option. Insomnia is often a symptom of an underlying physical or psychological problem. If you suffer from insomnia, see your doctor. There are many non-pharmacological options for improving sleep.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.