For anybody looking to relieve themselves of a pattern of poor sleep, the first instinct is to head for the pharmacy and try some over the counter sleep aids, but with the choice available, do you really know exactly what you are buying or how effective it will be? There are medications and herbal remedies available without prescription with different uses, results and side-effects. This guide is designed to show the pros and cons of the options available.
What are the over the counter sleep aids?
Traditional over the counter sleep aids can be split into different categories, but the main two are brands that contain Diphenhydramine – such as Benadryl – and those that contain Doxylamine – like Unisom. Both of these chemicals are forms of sedative antihistamines and are the most powerful form of sedative on the market. The method of these kind of pills is to force the body into a drowsy state by eliminating the histamines in the body that are keeping it awake. Diphenhydramine is an inverse agonist that works by blocking histamines in the capillaries, whereas Doxylamine works as a antagonist by binding to histamine receptors and inhibiting its release. Other forms of over the counter sleep aids like sleeping pills containing antihistamine also include acetaminophen or alcohol.
The benefits of these forms of medication are that they are widely available and fast-acting. The use of antihistamines leads to a sedative effect that relaxes you at a faster rate, and these positive feelings are enhanced by the painkillers – many of these drugs also contain Ibuprofen. There are however many potential side-effects and groups at risk when taking these pills. Firstly, anybody suffering from Depression and Parkinson’s should never take them. They should also be avoided by children, the elderly and lactating women and should not be taken with alcohol or before driving. One of the biggest problems with taking these antihistamines is that the body becomes immune to them very quickly. Other adverse effects of these chemical approaches include drowsiness during the day, impairment of cognitive functions – like memory loss, dizziness and clumsiness – constipation, urine retention, blurred vision and dry mouth.
If this extensive list of side-effects is off-putting, sufferers can alternatively try natural over the counter sleep aids. Two common forms are Valerian and Melatonin supplements. Valerian is a herbal product that is extracted from the root of the plant of the same name, which works on the GABA neurotransmitter producing a sedative effect. For this reason it can be viewed as a natural substitute for the commonly prescribed Benzodiazepines. Melatonin on the other hand is a hormone produced in the body when it is time to sleep. A lack of melatonin means risking a sleepless night so supplementing your body can give it the extra boost it needs.
These forms may be seen as a better option because of their natural components and the fact that have less side-effects and warnings. Having said this, their use cannot guarantee purely positive effects and they certainly are not as quick at getting you to sleep. This is because the natural methods are created to aid sleep by helping the root of the problem rather than simply provide a quick sedative. Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage of the product is down to personal opinion and requirements. One of the biggest problems with melatonin is that you have to take it at a precise time or else run the risk of it doing more damage to your circadian rhythm. Valerian also carries a warning because of its potential dangerous effects of being a stimulant and inducing vivid dreams. These results are rare but as a precaution it is advised never to give the herb to children or patients on antihistamines or anti-depressants . Other potential side-effects of this remedy are stomach complaints and drowsiness.
In summary, when choosing the option that is right for you there is plenty to consider. If you want to take a drug that is fast acting and effective and are not worried about the side-effects, try a variety of Diphenhydramine or Doxylamine pill. If you prefer to try something more alternative that has less side-effects but less of an immediate impact, try Valerian or Melatonin. If you are still in doubt consult your doctor, but if you do choose this method you will find buying over the counter sleep aids is an easily accessible course to take.