Over-The-Counter Medications To Try If You Can't Sleep

Many of us have been there before — the insomnia kicks in and you find yourself lying awake at night, wishing for sleep to come. Luckily, there are some over-the-counter medications you can try if you are having trouble sleeping.

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine known by brand names like Advil PM, Benadryl, Tylenol PM, and Zzzquil (via Sleep Foundation). It has sedative effects and is commonly used by older adults for insomnia. Doxylamine is also an antihistamine that is known as Unisom and is similar to diphenhydramine, but is used in many fever-reducers, and cough and cold medicines. In the cases of both diphenhydramine and doxylamine, overuse or use for too long a period can lead to undesirable side effects, so it's best to ask your doctor about other options to treat chronic insomnia. 

There are also supplements on the sleep-aid front that aren't technically considered medications. Melatonin supplements boost your natural levels of melatonin, a hormone that your brain produces as the day progresses into the evening to tell your body when it's time for sleep. It should be noted that melatonin is not recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a medication, but as a dietary supplement.

Why you should use sleep medications with caution

Valerian is another dietary supplement option derived from an herb that can be found in mild sedatives for insomnia and anxiety (via Sleep Foundation). However, there isn't scientific evidence yet that valerian can effectively combat insomnia. Valerian also has side effects such as headache, upset stomach, and daytime sleepiness. 

There are some negatives to relying on over-the-counter sleep medications. Your body can develop a tolerance for antihistamines in particular, so if you take them often you may start to see the effects diminish (via Mayo Clinic). You may also feel groggy the morning after taking an over-the-counter sleeping pill — an unwanted side effect. Even with over-the-counter medications, it is important to discuss your sleeping issues with your medical team. This also enables you to learn if there are any side effects or potential conflicts with current medications.

It is also wise to address your sleep habits and develop positive sleep hygiene (via Verywell Health). Keeping a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, eliminating naps, using relaxation techniques, and keeping a quiet and dark sleep environment could be the key to helping you fall asleep.