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Aids and Medication for Sleep: Over-the-Counter, Natural, and Prescription

by Sammy Nickalls

Perhaps one of the worst feelings is when you can’t get to sleep at night. You’re laying wide awake in your bed, looking at the clock, wondering how in the world you can be so wide awake at such an ungodly hour. But the worst part: thinking about how exhausted you’re going to be the next morning.

Sleep is a necessary part of functioning and healthy living. However, short-term (or, unfortunately, even long-term) insomnia can hit us all from time to time. Our bodies’ “awake chemicals” such as adrenaline and noradrenaline can sometimes be more active than our “sleep chemicals,” making it practically impossible to get yourself to doze off and get that much-needed beauty rest.

You may be considering taking a medication for sleep or another form of sleep aid. But when there are over-the-counter pills, natural supplements, and even prescription pills, how do you know what’s right for you? Here’s our quick guide to sleeping pills and medications.


1. Diphenhydramine (also called Benadryl)

You’re actually recommending I use Benadryl for something other than its intended use?

Yep. Though mainly used for allergies, Benadryl is FDA approved as an over-the-counter, non-prescription sleep aid. Plus, studies have shown that Benadryl is safe and does not cause rebound insomnia, and that it could be a useful treatment for mild insomnia.

Related: A Little Known Fact about Sleep that could Affect Your Waistline

2. Doxylamine (also called Unisom SleepTabs)

In one study, those who took doxylamine (in other words, Unisom) were able to fall asleep faster, had higher quality sleep, slept longer, didn’t wake up as often, and even were more restful in the morning than those who took a placebo. According to Unisom’s site, after taking one tablet, people can fall asleep an average of 23 minutes faster.

3. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body. In fact, melatonin is what makes your bed seem so inviting. However, it is also available in pill form. It’s the only hormone available without a prescription, so some may be wary of it, but if used correctly, melatonin can help with minor sleep problems. It’s trusty and has been used for years for jet lag, to help blind people develop a sleeping cycle, and for those who have issues sleeping due to unusual work shifts.

It can also be used to help treat mild insomnia by making you fall asleep faster; however, be aware that it might not help you stay asleep. If you are having issues staying asleep, melatonin might not be your answer.

4. GABA-enhanced drink

Do you tend to have issues sleeping because you are up thinking about everything you have to do? If writing out to-do lists beforehand doesn’t help your racing mind, try a GABA-enhanced drink.

A what?

Yeah, sounds kinda ridiculous. GABA stands for gamma-aminobutryic acid, an amino acid already present in the body that can relieve anxiety by blocking brain signals. It can help you relax and stop thinking so much so that you can finally rest your worried little head. An example would be AriZona’s P.M. Relax Fast Shot.

Related: How to Sleep Better in 4 Steps

5. Valerian

Though it sounds like a race of elves from a sci-fi movie, valerian is actually an herb that can be used for sleep disorders such as insomnia. It is sold in three main ways: dried root (meant for an infusion), capsules, and teabags. Though scientists are not totally sure, valerian seems to act like a sedative in the body. Studies have suggested that valerian might help you sleep without any side effects, so if you’re looking for a natural remedy, valerian is the way to go.


If you think you might have a serious issue with insomnia, and your over-the-counter medication for sleep just isn’t helping you, you might want to see your doctor about getting a prescription. Here are three of the most well-known prescriptions, as well as their benefits and drawbacks.

1. Lunesta

On its site, Lunesta claims to be the #1 prescribed branded sleep aid. It’s used to tread insomnia, so it’s a bit more intense and should only be used if prescribed. It can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, for approximately seven hours—but you should not take it if you know you will not be getting a full night’s sleep, or you may wake up very drowsy.

Lunesta can be taken every night for an extended period of time, but it’s a more “intense” medication, to be used if you are truly having regular issues sleeping. Plus, Lunesta has some side effects, so if you’re worried about those, it might be best to go another direction, such as:

Related: How to Manage Stress without Alcohol or Drugs

2. Rozerem

Ever seen those “your dreams miss you” ads? You know, with the guy talking to Abraham Lincoln? Yeah, that’s Rozerem. Other than the kooky commericals, the main reason why people go for Rozerem is its lack of side effects.

It appears to have not a single withdrawal or negative effect. It’s claimed to be very safe, so if you’re nervous about combining it with another drug, this may be the way to go.

3. Sonata

If you’re looking for a medication for sleep that doesn’t require a full night’s sleep, Sonata might be your answer. If you know you can’t get a full night’s sleep, but you want to get at least a little beauty rest, the rest of the aids and medications might just make you drowsy when you wake up.

Zaleplon, marketed under the brand name Sonata, has the shortest half-life of all sleeping pills. In other words, it takes way less time to be eliminated from your system. So if you want to try to sleep on your own, but still aren’t feeling tired late at night, you can take it without worrying about being tired in the morning.

Related: Why You Need to Stress Less

The Takeaway

If you’re having a hard time getting your shut-eye, an aid or medication for sleep might be just what you need. Depending on your personal needs, one of over-the-counter or prescription aids can help you get the beauty sleep you need—and deserve! Just make sure to speak with your doctor before trying any new medication to make sure you do what’s right for you.


sammy nickalls

Sammy Nickalls is the Content Manager at She is an avid health nut and a lover of all things avocado. Follow her on Twitter or Pinterest.

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