Insomnia Handbook, Vol.2, Issue 2, Abstract (May 2008)

Over the counter (OTC) sleep aids commonly referred to can be broadly categorized into the antihistamines and the herbal supplements. Below is an overview of these OTC sleep aids by their active ingredients, how they work, what the popular brands are, the side effects they have and precautions when taking them.

The same drugs you take for allergy and cough and cold

You are basically using their side effect of prolonged drowsiness to get you to sleep

Melatonin- a hormone secreted from our the pineal gland in our brain; thought to help our bodies’ internal clock i.e when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up.

Valerian – a plant; its active ingredient is still unclear therefore how it works is unclear too. Generally thought to help reduce the time to get to sleep

POPULAR BRANDS are from 2 types of antihistamines

1. Sominex, Nytol, Tylenol PM, Benadryl -Diphenhydramine compound

2. Unisom, Equate
– Doxylamine compound

Melatonin- the synthetic form is available in many brands; AVOID natural forms that are basically melatonin derived from animal’s pineal glands due to possible contamination

Valerian – available in many brands but hard to compare as the potencies of various ingredients vary from preparation to preparation

-Prolonged drowsiness or hangover effect that impairs driving, etc
-Reduced alertness

Note: racing heartbeat and constipation are frequent complaints

-daytime drowsiness headaches, dizziness, a “heavy-head” feeling, stomach discomfort

-headache, excitability or uneasiness, heart disturbances


Not for pregnant or nursing women

Not for you if you have:
• Heart problems
• Glaucoma
• Enlarged prostate

Not to be taken with alcohol or with a sleeping pill, sedative, tranquilizer, or another antihistamine

Especially for Unisom, you can’t even take them if you’ve got asthma or bronchitis.

Not for pregnant or nursing women

-may interact with common drugs

-may strongly react with other sleep aids and with alcohol, and may react with other medications

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