What Is The Best Over-The-Counter Sleep Aid? | WellSpring

What Is The Best Over-The-Counter Sleep Aid? | WellSpring

Best Sleep Treatment: What Is The Best Over-The-Counter Sleep Aid?

Are you suffering from an inability to sleep when you need to? This is a serious condition that can lead to further medical problems if you don’t treat it effectively. It can also cause you to withdraw from your social life and put your employment at risk.

You should always see your doctor if you experience health-threatening sleep problems. However, you may not be interested in powerful prescriptions. 

In this guide, you’re going to learn about some of the ways you may be able to get better sleep without a prescription. First, we’ll look at treatable problems that can stop you from sleeping correctly. Then, you’ll learn about some habits you can change and the best over-the-counter sleep aids that you can find in stores and online. 

Table of Contents

  • What problems may be making it difficult for me to sleep?
  • What habits can help me sleep better?
  • What are the best over-the-counter sleep aids?

What Problems May Be Making It Difficult for Me to Sleep?

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Before you treat your sleep problem with over-the-counter medications, you need to think about why it’s happening. Some conditions that have sleep problems as a symptom are serious. You may need to treat the underlying condition before you can safely take any medications.

The most common cause of sleep problems is insomnia. Insomnia is a broad term that is used to label most sleep disorders unless a more specific reason can be identified.

You may have insomnia if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at the end of the day
  • Frequently waking up from sleep before you’re fully rested
  • Waking up earlier than intended
  • Discomfort and tiredness after waking
  • Irritability, trouble focusing, and anxiety 
  • Stress about sleep 

The medical field recognizes two distinct types of insomnia:

  • Primary insomnia: You are considered to have primary insomnia when your sleep problems can’t be linked to an underlying health condition or problem.
  • Secondary insomnia: You are considered to have secondary insomnia when your sleep problems can be identified as a symptom of an underlying condition.

It is important that you see a doctor so you can determine if your insomnia is primary or secondary. If it’s primary, you can safely take over-the-counter sleep aids or make habit changes. 

However, if you have secondary insomnia, over-the-counter sleep aids alone may not help. Your condition may require direct treatment to prevent it from advancing any further. Treating underlying conditions may clear up insomnia, or your doctor may recommend additional treatments that fit.

Underlying conditions that cause secondary insomnia

Stress disorders

Stress disorders are a common culprit in insomnia. Even general stress can cause you to have trouble sleeping. However, the symptoms are likely to be even more severe for post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental health conditions.

Sleep disorders

There are many disorders that have sleep disorders as their primary symptom. Sleep apnea is a common condition that causes you to stop breathing periodically throughout the night. 

You may also suffer from restless leg syndrome. This disorder gives you an urge to move your legs frequently. The movement can keep you from reaching deep sleep because you’re constantly changing your position. 

Chronic pain disorders

Pain can make it difficult to sleep. Nerve damage, sore muscles, organ pain, and other problems can make it so you never feel truly relaxed. You may find it very hard to sleep if you are experiencing pain anywhere on your body. 


  • Alzheimer’s
  • Asthma
  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Parkinson’s disease

This isn’t a complete list of all the conditions that can cause you to lose sleep at night. You will likely need to schedule a doctor’s visit to determine the exact cause. Treating underlying conditions you the best chance of preventing insomnia without putting yourself at additional risk.

If you have primary insomnia—sleep loss that isn’t caused by underlying conditions—there are some habits you can practice that may help you sleep better without medical intervention.

What Habits Can Help Me Sleep Better?

Your sleep problems may be the result of personal choices that you can control. By changing your habits, you may be able to clear up your symptoms without any supplements or medications. 

The most important habits to practice are keeping your sleep habits consistent, avoiding food in the late evening, and cutting out caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. 

Keep your sleeping habits consistent

One of the most effective ways to prevent primary insomnia is to keep your sleeping habits consistent. First, you should always try to go to bed around the same time every night. After that, it’s also a good idea to keep the room lighting and temperature consistent.

These habits help to signal to your body that the time has come to rest. When your sleep schedule changes constantly, your body can become confused about when to wind down. This can leave you too wired to sleep properly. 

It’s also a good idea to try to separate your sleeping space from your working space. If you keep a computer in your bedroom or typically work on tablets late at night, your body may not strongly associate your bedroom with a place of rest.

If you work to make sure that your bedroom is only for rest, you may notice that your body begins to feel more restful when you climb into bed at night.

Avoid eating in the late evening

Eating food can have a significant short-term impact on your body. Your stomach needs energy and motion to break down food, and the rest of the organs involved in the digestive process are also doing constant work.

This work can put your body into an energetic mode that gets in the way of your sleep. If you simply don’t feel tired when you lie down at night, it may be because your body is still working through your most recent meal

Stimulants in food can also affect you for several hours after eating. Many foods and beverages contain one or more of the following stimulants:

  • B-complex vitamins 
  • Caffeine
  • Carnitine
  • Ginseng
  • Guarana
  • Taurine

Naturally, taking an energy stimulant will make it more difficult for you to sleep. There are hundreds of foods that contain stimulants. The easiest way to avoid this problem is to simply avoid eating any foods for 3-5 hours before you go to bed.

As an alternative, you can drink caffeine-free herbal teas. 

Cut out caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol

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Certain chemicals can cause problems all day long, even when you’re not taking them shortly before bed. In particular, reliance on caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol can cause persistent sleep problems.

Caffeine is a common stimulant available in coffee and energy drink. It can also be mildly habit-forming. That means withdrawing from it can cause just as many problems for your sleep habits as taking it around bedtime. It’s best to cut out caffeine entirely if you can.

Nicotine is another habit-forming substance you should avoid if you want to get enough sleep. Nicotine cravings can be persistent, no matter how tired you are. Your body may interrupt your rest with nicotine cravings until you quit.

Many people consider alcohol to be a type of sleep aid. It simply is not. It may make you feel drowsy in the short term, but it can also prevent you from feeling rested after sleep. If you are a frequent alcohol user, and you don’t feel rested after sleep, alcohol may be the cause.

What Are the Best Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids?

Once you’ve considered the causes of your insomnia, and developed the right habits, you can start exploring the over-the-counter sleep aids that are available to give you. There are several that you should consider if you want to sleep better.

Widely available over-the-counter sleep aids

  • Diphenhydramine
  • Doxylamine succinate
  • Melatonin
  • Valerian


Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that is commonly used as a sleep aid. Antihistamines are widely used to treat allergy symptoms, but some of them have mild sedative symptoms, as is the case with Diphenhydramine.

It’s one of the best over-the-counter sleep aids for people who are also managing allergy symptoms at the same time.

This substance is sold over-the-counter under the brand name Unisom. There are also many generic forms of Diphenhydramine available in tablet capsule, or syrup form. 

Read the instructions carefully before using Diphenhydramine. Some doses are not considered safe for children under the age of 12. 

Doxylamine succinate

Doxylamine succinate is another common antihistamine that is used to relieve allergy symptoms. Like Diphenhydramine, its mildly sedative properties have made it popular as a sleep aid.

You can find this substance in brand-name drugs like ZZZquil. It is also widely available in generic form for a lower cost. Generic Doxylamine succinate is often found in tablet form online and in drug stores. 

You should consider avoiding this drug if you have some conditions that may cause problems. For example, you may not be able to take Doxylamine succinate safely if you have glaucoma, an enlarged prostate, urination problems, or lung-related disorders.

Pregnant women are also discouraged from taking this substance because it can pass through breastmilk. It should not be used by any children who are under the age of 12

Read the label instructions closely to make sure that you can safely take this drug.


Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that is used as part of the sleep cycle. This hormone is released when your brain is trying to signal to the rest of your body that it’s time to rest. Most people produce more melatonin naturally as they go to sleep.

When it gets closer to time to wake up, the melatonin levels in your body drop to signal that it’s time to wake up. Many habits and minor disorders can interfere with your melatonin levels. You may produce insufficient amounts to go to sleep, or your levels may drop too quickly—causing you to wake up before you’re rested.

You can take widely-available melatonin supplements to increase the levels in your body when you’re ready to go to sleep. It is often used temporarily by people who have to change shifts or travel to a different time zone.

The supplement is considered safe to use and is widely available in pill, liquid, and chewable forms online and in pharmacies.   

 Get Better Sleep Without a Prescription

Now, you have a better idea of what may be causing your insomnia, and some of the habit changes and best over-the-counter sleep aids that may offer you relief.

Making choices as simple as keeping your sleep routine consistent can allow you to get the rest you need. Avoid eating before bed, and food and drinks that can interfere with sleep, and you’ll have an even better chance of controlling your symptoms.

If you decide to use over-the-counter sleep aids, you’ll find that there is an excellent selection of options available in stores and online. Many of these sleep aids are formed of naturally-occurring substances that are already used by your body as part of the sleep cycle. 

If your Insomnia is resisting treatment, you should see a doctor as soon as your condition begins to interfere with your life. Insomnia is a highly-complex problem with hundreds of possible sources. Some of those sources may be medical issues that require immediate treatment.



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