10 Best Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids That Work In 2024
Unfortunately, sleeping well becomes tougher as you get older. In fact, up to 70%2 of older adults experience sleep difficulties.
The good news is that over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids might help. These aids can range from medications to natural remedies.
This guide discusses the top ten non-habit-forming sleep aids so you can pick the one for you. But before you do, always talk to a healthcare professional. This helps prevent any adverse effects. Let’s find your path to better sleep!
How Do Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids Work?
You can buy over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping aids directly from a store or pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription how these work depends on the ingredients they contain. Here are some common ingredients and their mechanism of action.
- Melatonin. This hormone helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. It tells the body when it’s time to go to bed. Research3 shows that melatonin levels decrease with age. Supplementing melatonin can realign the body’s clock and help you sleep better.
- Valerian root. This herbal supplement can help reduce anxiety. As a result, it can improve overall sleep. Evidence4 suggests that adding valerian root can help improve sleep quality in people with insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep).
- Antihistamines. Some antihistamines, such as doxylamine (Unisom) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can induce sleep.
- Ashwagandha. Adaptogens can help reduce stress and promote a good night’s sleep. Ashwagandha is one of the most popular adaptogens available. Research5 shows that it can be an effective treatment for people with insomnia.
What Are The Best Non-Habit Forming Sleep Aids for 2023?
Here are the best over-the-counter sleep aids for people with insomnia. Remember to always consult a doctor before taking any sleeping aids.
A melatonin supplement can be a good idea if your body is not making enough melatonin. There are different forms of melatonin available. You can find them in pill form or liquid form. So you can opt for the liquid option if you are having trouble swallowing pills (or simply don’t like them).
Keep in mind that melatonin doesn’t act immediately. It can take several hours for you to start feeling its effect. So, experiment to know when is the best time to take it for you. Also, make sure you have a bedtime routine to help you wind down once you take it.
Gaia Herbs is a great option for those looking for a plant-based sleeping aid. They contain valerian root, passionflower, skullcap, lavender essential oil, and California poppy.
One of its strongest ingredients is valerian root.7 This can improve the quality of your sleep and help you go to bed faster. The company is third-party tested, and it’s free from heavy metals and pesticides.
SmartyPants are a great option for those who don’t like taking pills. They come in cherry-flavored gummy form and are a yummy way to promote a good night’s sleep. Each gummy contains 3 mg of melatonin and other powerful ingredients, like ashwagandha and chamomile.
Ashwagandha8 can help you relax, helping the body get ready for sleep. Melatonin helps regulate the sleep cycle.
The company uses non-GMO ingredients. It is clean-label certified and is free from allergens. Also, it is also made in GMP-certified facilities.
Sleepytime Tea by Celestial Seasonings can be a great option if you are looking for an all-natural approach. This option contains ingredients that promote relaxation, such as chamomile,9 spearmint, tilia flower, blackberry leaves, hawthorn, and rosebuds.
This is a great option for those who need a little help relaxing. But keep in mind that since it comes in tea form, it may increase your water intake before bedtime. So, for those struggling with getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, there may be better alternatives.
Since this option doesn’t create dependence (reliance on it to go to sleep), it can be one of the best over-the-counter sleep aids for long-term use.
Doxylamine (Unisom) is a quick and easy sleep solution. It comes in cherry-flavored tablets that dissolve without needing water. These are perfect for those who don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. If you don’t like the flavor, you can try the flavorless pill option.
Also, it doesn’t cause any dependency and is safe to take. However, some people may experience drowsiness when they wake up.
ZzzQuil is among the most popular sleep aids. It helps most people fall asleep in as little as 20 to 30 minutes. Its main ingredient is diphenhydramine HCl, a non-habit-forming ingredient.
However, just like the previous option, ZzzQuil Nighttime sleep aid may not suit everyone since it can cause daytime drowsiness and grogginess.
You can find this OTC sleep aid in both pill and liquid form.
Sominex is another option that contains diphenhydramine HCl, an antihistamine. Sominex comes in tablet form and is a non-habit-forming medication.
While most people feel relaxed and rested, some may feel drowsy when waking up. Also, since it’s a medication used to treat allergies, speak with your doctor before taking it (just like the other medications).
Olly Ultra Strength Sleep is another formula to help you get a good night’s sleep without creating dependency. It contains melatonin (10 mg), L-theanine, chamomile extract, passionflower extract, and lemon balm extract.
L-theanine is a chemical that sends signals to the brain to promote relaxing brain activity. In other words, it helps your brain calm down. Evidence10 suggests that L-theanine won’t cause dependency, and it won’t make you feel drowsy.
Since it contains 10 mg of melatonin (the maximum recommended dosage), starting with a low dose is best to determine its effect on your body.
Tart cherry juice is also a good option to help you go to sleep. However, you would need to drink plenty of liquid for it to cause an effect. So, for those who get up at night to go to the bathroom, a capsule may be a better alternative.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that can help your muscles relax. Thus, it can enable you to sleep better. While there are different forms of magnesium, the best option for sleep seems to be magnesium glycinate.
Research13 shows that magnesium glycinate can help relax and improve mood. While it seems to be beneficial for those with insomnia, more research is still needed to determine its effects on sleep.
What Are The Side Effects of Over-the-counter Sleep Aids?
Each OTC sleep aid’s side effects depend on its ingredients. The most common side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Urinary retention
Speak to a health professional or read the medication’s information page for more information regarding each medication’s side effects.
Are Over-the-counter Sleep Aids Safe?
Most OTC sleep aids are safe to take. However, using an OTC sleep aid long-term may cause daytime grogginess and, in only a few cases, addiction.
When purchasing OTC supplements, ensure you get them from certified brands. These usually contain the best quality ingredients.
Here are some recommendations to follow when using OTC sleeping aids:
- Never use them, along with alcohol.
- Speak with a doctor to determine the best option for your situation.
- Create a bedtime routine to increase your chances of a better sleep.
- Follow the medication as the doctor recommends.
- Start with smaller doses or the one recommended by your doctor.
How Long Can I Take The Safest Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids?
OTC sleep aids are intended as a short-term solution for sleep. They are not meant to be used long-term.
If you are having trouble sleeping without any aid, a sleep professional can help. They can help you select the best methods to unwind and encourage a good night’s sleep without relying on OTC sleep aids.
Which Over-The-Counter Sleep Aid Is Right For You?
Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all. While some people may function with a certain sleep aid, others may not. Take into consideration your individual needs, health conditions, and sleep disturbances to help select the best sleep aids for occasional use.
Always consult a health professional to help you select the one for your needs. It may take time to create the best bedtime routine that helps you unwind and prepare the body to sleep. Finding the right sleep is sometimes a matter of trial and error. So, don’t give up! You’ll find the perfect option for you.
Are Over-the-counter Sleep Aids Better Than Prescription Sleep Aids?
OTC and prescription sleep aids have both their pros and cons. Initially, it may be a good idea to try with an OTC since they are less likely to have severe dependency side effects. But depending on the situation, a prescription sleep aid may be needed.
For severe mental problems like anxiety and depression, a prescription sleep aid may be the best option. However, the only person who can determine the best sleep aid option is a health professional. They go through your medical history to help you select the best option.
Here is a short summary of the pros and cons of OTC and prescription sleep aids.
|OTC Sleep Aids
|Prescription Sleep Aids
|Less likely to create dependency Don’t need a prescription to get them Most are made with natural ingredients Less likely to cause side effects
|May be more effective for long-term insomnia Can target specific sleep problems
|Can still cause some side effects like dizziness, and nausea. Some options may not be effective for some peopleMay cause allergic reactions May not work for long-term sleep disorders.
|More likely to cause side effectsNeed a prescription from a doctorCan cause dependency
Sleep plays a crucial role in health. Inadequate sleep not only can affect overall mood but it can also put you at risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. A bedtime routine can help your body unwind and prepare for a good night’s sleep. However, in some cases, an OTC sleep aid may be beneficial.
There are natural sleep aids (tart cherry, melatonin, ashwagandha, and valerian root) and other synthetic forms (like antihistamine medication) that can promote a good night’s sleep.
Remember that everyone has different needs. If you have doubts about the best option for you, consult with a doctor. There may be certain ingredients that may interact with your current medications.
1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency – What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? | NHLBI, NIH. www.nhlbi.nih.gov. Published March 24, 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation#:~:text=Sleep%20deficiency%20is%20linked%20to
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