5 Best Over the Counter Sleep Aids

Many people have trouble sleeping at night, which means they feel groggy and not themselves the next day. A lack of sleep can also lead to a wide range of serious health conditions, including heart attack and stroke. If you’ve followed the usual tips for getting enough sleep, including sleeping on a regular schedule, exercising consistently and reducing stress, but sleep is still elusive, it may be time to try over the counter sleep aids. We’ve compiled a list of the best sleep aids to help you finally get the sleep you need.

Which type of sleep aid?

When it comes to choosing an over the counter sleep aid, the first thing you need to do is decide which type you feel most comfortable taking. Your main options are melatonin, anti-histamines and herbal remedies. Here’s a basic guide to help you understand the difference between them:

  • Anti-histamines – generally the strongest in terms of sedative effect. Antihistamines induce drowsiness by working against histamine, a chemical produced by the central nervous system

  • Melatonin – help to regulate sleep after situations such as shift work or jet lag. Melatonin's main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles.

  • Herbal pills – tend to be milder. Herbal pills induce drowsiness, helping you sleep.

1)Ambitropin

Active Ingredient: Valerian Root

A 100% all-natural sleep aid, Ambitropin has been specially designed to help you get a restful night’s sleep. Carefully formulated with seven clinically-proven ingredients, it helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep, ensuring you feel rested and refreshed when you awake. There are no harmful side effects, such as drowsiness.   

Ambitropin’s active ingredient is the Valerian root, which works to relax the body and regulate your normal sleep cycle. Hops extract manages restfulness, and melatonin - a powerful sleep-enhancing ingredient - stimulates sleep and relaxation. This is an effective sleep aid which soothes and relaxes the body, promoting sleep. It’s also very affordable. It may not work for everyone however, and the duration it takes to achieve results is not yet known. Also, although the manufacturer claims that it has a 95% success rate, it has failed to reveal any concrete proof to back up this statement. It’s worth a try though, especially as it causes no side effects and is one of the best-selling over the counter sleep aids on the market.  

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2)Kirkland Signature

Active ingredient: Doxylamine Succinate 25 mg

Kirland Signature is arguably the most powerful and effective sleeps aid that you can buy over the counter. The active ingredient is Doxylamine Succinate, which is an anti-histamine with a strong sedative effect. This means that you will probably feel very drowsy – both mentally and physically - after taking it. Obviously, this is exactly what you want from an over the counter sleep aid. 

Kirkland Signature is a good choice if you want a long night’s sleep. However, if you go to bed late at night and then need to be up first thing in the morning, it may not be ideal. In this situation, a milder sleep aid may be more appropriate. There’s no way of knowing exactly how long this sleep aid stays in the body once you’ve taken it, as this will vary depending on factors such as your age, size and metabolism. 

It’s important to keep in mind that if you need to get up less than eight or so hours after taking Kirkland Signature and rush off to work, you may still feel a bit drowsy. But if you have plenty of time sleep and then wake up slowly, this sleep aid could suit you very well.  Fortunately, there isn’t a risk of becoming addicted to Doxylamine, unlike with many other prescription sleeping pills, and you won’t find yourself needing to increase the dosage each night.

Ultimately, if you require an over the counter sleep aid to help you get a good night’s sleep, and you have the time to wake up slowly and at your leisure, this could be a suitable option.

​3)ZzzQuil

​Active ingredient: Diphenhydramine HCI 25mg   ZzzQuil

Nighttime Sleep Aid is made by Vicks NyQuil and has been available for several years. It remains a firm favourite, being one of the best-selling sleep aids on the market. If you occasionally have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, and you want to be able to fall asleep faster, ZzzQuil Nighttime Sleep Aid could be worth a try. It’s a quick and effective remedy for sleeplessness.    

The active ingredient in this popular Vicks sleep aid is Diphenhydramine HCI - a compound that helps you to fall asleep. It may also be worth noting that alcohol is present in the ZzzQuil Liquid drink form.    

Diphenhydramine HCl 25 mg is effective at deactivating alertness, putting the mind and body at ease, and at rest promoting sleepiness. The primary function of Diphenhydramine HCl is to act as an antihistamine, switching off mental alertness in order to make you feel relaxed and drowsy in the process.    

This sleep aid is backed up by clinical studies that show that Diphenhydramine can provide a solution for occasional sleeplessness, reducing the time it takes to feel sleepy. Although this sleep aid does its job very well, because it induces drowsiness and blocks mental alertness it can be potentially dangerous. Do not drive or operate machinery after taking ZzzQuil.

​4)REMfresh

Active ingredient: Melatonin 

REMfresh is a supplemental melatonin sleep aid from the company Physician’s Seal. It works by mimicking the way the body releases melatonin during your sleep cycle, helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. Ultimately, it helps you to experience better sleep overall.

REMfresh contains no narcotics, hypnotics, barbiturates, sedatives, antihistamines, or alcohol, and what’s more is that it’s non-habit forming.  

The company claims that REMfresh is absorbed in the digestive tract for up to 7 hours continuously. However, it’s worth noting that the effectiveness of time-release supplements may vary amongst individuals. 

Overall, REMfresh is worth a try if you suffer from sleep deprivation, particularly as it has no side effects. There’s no “hangover effects’ as with some other sleep aids. REMfresh is made with 99% pure melatonin, and because this hormone creates the urge to fall asleep, it’s no surprise that it does its job so well. 

On the other hand, if price is a big concern, you may want to try one of the cheaper alternatives on the market. Many of these products also contain 99% pure melatonin and so could have the same effect for a lot less cash.

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​5)Zenwise Labs Sleep Support

Active ingredients: Melatonin 6mg, Magnesium 80 mg, L-Taurine 200 mg, L-Theanine 200 mg, Chamomile powder 150mg, l-Ornithine 5 mg, Valerian powder 150 mg, GABA 100 mg and 5-HTP 100 mg. 

The Zenwise Labs sleep aid is one of the strongest over the counter sleep aids on the market, which when you consider how many ingredients it has in it, isn’t all that surprising. It contains melatonin (6mg), magnesium, L-Taurine, L-Theanine, Chamomile, l-Ornithine, Valerian, GABA and 5-HTP – all ingredients which are believed to help with either relaxation or sleep. 

Zenwise Labs Sleep Support does help you to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep throughout the night. Plus, because there are no after-effects in the morning, it’s ideal if you need to rush off to work soon after waking up. It’s an effective sleep aid, but there are a couple of things you may want to consider. Firstly, 6 mg of melatonin is very high. 3 mg is the usual dose found in sleep aids. 

Secondly, because there are so many ingredients in this sleep aid, it has the potential to be a little too strong for some people. As such, it’s a good idea to try a half dose to begin with. If you only experience a feeling of light sedation, you can always increase the dosage next time.

Important considerations

There are some important considerations to make when it comes to taking over the counter sleep aids:

  • Consult your doctor. Although you don't need your doctor's permission to take over the counter sleep aids, it’s a good idea to ask him or her if they might interact with any other medications you’re taking, or underlying conditions you may have. They can also help you to determine the best dosage to suit your needs. Some sleep aids can pose a risk to women who’re pregnant or breast-feeding, so it’s definitely a good idea to speak to your doctor in this instance. Over the counter sleep aids may also pose risks to people over the age of 75 as they can increase the risk of stroke.

  • Keep precautions in mind. Over the counter sleep aids come with various precautions. Keep in mind that Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine are not recommended for people who have certain conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnoea, severe liver disease and digestive system obstruction. These drugs are also not recommended for older adults because they may increase the risk of dementia.

  • Take it one day at a time. Over-the-counter sleep aids are a temporary solution for sleeping problems. Generally, they shouldn’t be used for more than two weeks.

  • Avoid alcohol. You should never mix sleep aids with alcohol. Alcohol can increase the sedative effects of the medication, which can be dangerous in certain situations.

  • Beware of side effects. Over the counter sleep aids can cause side effects, therefore it’s important not to drive or attempt other activities that require you to be alert whilst taking them. As well as drowsiness, they can cause blurred vision, confusion and hallucinations.

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Conclusion

Over the counter sleep aids can be an effective way of getting the sleep that you need to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. They are affordable and can be purchased easily from reputable retailers. However, if you continue to have trouble sleeping, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for additional help. Your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes that could help prevent sleeping problems, as well as behavioural therapy to help you adapt new sleep habits. He or she could also suggest ways in which you can change your sleeping environment so that it’s more conducive to sleep. The short-term use of prescription sleep aids might be recommended as well.

Over the counter sleep aids are a good place to start if you’re struggling to sleep and the best of these promise a good night’s sleep. They tend to be gentler than prescription sleeping pills, but it’s still important to take them in accordance with instructions. You should also keep in mind that most of these remedies aren’t intended to be taken over long periods of time. This can reduce their effectiveness. They are not a permanent solution to getting the sleep you need.

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