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Over the Counter Sleep Aids

Posted Feb 22 2010 4:57pm

Insomnia affects most of us at some point in our lives.  When our normal sleep cycle is interrupted or changed due to uncontrollable circumstances such as time zone changes, jet lag or a difficult time in our life we sometimes find ourselves unable to fall asleep or stay asleep once we do.  This can cause other health issues, as sleep is inherent to keeping us healthy and on track.

sleeping aid

Most of the over the counter sleep aids available contain antihistamines because the side effect of them is drowsiness.  Some contain an analgesic as well, usually in a smaller dose than you would normally take. As with other medication the more you take it, the less effective it becomes. These sleep aids should only be used for short periods of time, and if your insomnia lasts longer than 2 weeks you should consult your doctor to determine if there is another cause for the insomnia.

Common Ingredients Used in Over the Counter Sleep Aids

A common ingredient which helps to induce drowsiness is Diphenhydramine; the possible side effects of this medication are dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness lasting into the next day, and memory problems. You should not take this medication if you are nursing, pregnant, or have a history of glaucoma, enlarged prostate or heart problems.

Another ingredient is Doxylamine which can also cause prolonged drowsiness.  You should not take this is you are pregnant, nursing or have a history of asthma, bronchitis, peptic ulcer, glaucoma or an enlarged prostate.

Dietary Supplements Used as Over the Counter Sleep Aids

There are some dietary supplements that have been advertised for treating insomnia.  The most common two are the herb, Valerian and the hormone, Melatonin.

Melatonin is said to control the body’s internal clock.  It is sold as a manufactured hormone supplement with the side effects of daytime drowsiness, headache and dizziness, confusion, stomach discomfort and others.  As with medication there are contraindications for hormones as well.  It is not recommended if you are pregnant or nursing and if you are under the age of 20.  There are also possible drug interactions so discuss the use of melatonin with your doctor before you use it if you are taking other medication.

The herb Valerian is considered safe by the FDA, although the active ingredient which enables a person to fall asleep and stay asleep is not clear.  Some reported side effects have been headache, changes in heart rhythms, and feelings of uneasiness or excitability.  You should not take this herb if you are pregnant or nursing.  You should check with your doctor before taking it, as it may react with other medications.

Where to Purchase Over the Counter Sleep Aids

There are many choices of over the counter sleep aids available to help us fall asleep and stay asleep to insure the rest we need to function in our day to day lives.   Available in pharmacies and on the shelves of the grocery store there are many brand-name and generic store brands of medical sleep aids. Store brands have the same benefits and risks as the name-brand, usually at a lower cost.   Compare the ingredient list with that of the name brand and determine if it is comparable.

Hormone and Herbal Dietary supplements can also be found in pharmacies, grocery stores and health food stores.

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