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Information about Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills

Must-know Information About Over-the-counter Sleeping Pills

Diphenhydramine is one of the commonly used sleeping pills. This HealthHearty article provides information about over-the-counter sleeping pills, which are drugs that help induce sleep, and can be purchased without a prescription.
Kanika Khara
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
The term 'insomnia' can be defined as an inability to sleep. Individuals affected by this condition are unable to get sleep at night, which is why they feel restless or irritated during the day. Medical assistance must be sought by those who have been experiencing restlessness, poor sleep, or trouble falling asleep. Some of the common contributing factors for insomnia include anxiety, depression, chronic illness, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, stress, exhaustion, etc. Though following measures such as avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, managing stress, going to bed at a fixed time everyday, etc., might help in some cases, some people resort to using over-the-counter sleeping pills. The following sections provide Since there is a lot of conflicting information about the effectiveness and safety of these pills, here, we will discuss in detail what are the different over the counter sleep aids or medications and how effective they are in treating insomnia.
Over-the-counter Sleeping Pills
Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep medication refers to drugs that are available from the chemist without any prescription. These drugs might be effective in inducing sleep, but long-term use is discouraged. The more you take them, the less effective they become. These pills have a sedating effect. Their use relaxes the mind and body, thereby inducing sleep. Out of the sleeping pills that can be purchased over the counter, antihistamines are considered to be the best. These comprise two main ingredients named diphenhydramine hydrochloride (brands include: Sominex, Compoz, Tylenol PM, and Unisom SleepGels) or doxylamine succinate (brands include: Unisom tablets, Equate). Generally taken for allergies, antihistamines work by inhibiting the action of histamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that promotes wakefulness.
Diphenhydramine is one of the most commonly found ingredient in almost all over the counter sleep medications. It promotes sleep by blocking the action of histamine. Apart from this, diphenhydramine is also beneficial in treating symptoms related to allergies like red eyes, itchy eyes, watery eyes, sneezing. runny nose, common cold, etc. For optimum results, it is recommended to take this drug half an hour before you plan to sleep.
Doxylamine is another type of antihistamine that is used for the treatment of insomnia. Just like diphenhydramine, it also blocks the action of histamine hormone and induces sleep in insomnia patients. Moreover, this OTC sleep aid is used in combination with decongestants and other medications to relieve symptoms that are related to common cold and flu. It is usually taken 30 minutes before bedtime, but should not be used to induce sleep in children.
Side Effects
Though OTC sleep aids that can be taken orally or as nasal sprays might prove beneficial, they also cause adverse effects, especially when used for extended periods. The effects can be stronger in adults, especially in case of an overdose. Some of the side effects include:
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness, feeling off balance
  • Constipation and urinary retention
  • Blurred vision
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Breathing problem such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis
  • Dry mouth and throat
OTC sleeping pills should always be taken as per the manufacturer's instructions. Read the instructions carefully, and take it as per the recommended dosage. Never exceed the dosage. Prolonged use of these drugs can be harmful; these should be used sparingly. These drugs are not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. These should not be taken by individuals affected by glaucoma, heart complications, enlarged prostate, asthma, bronchitis, or peptic ulcers. Therefore, consult your healthcare provider, before you start using any OTC sleeping aids.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.