Understanding Over- The- Counter Sleep Aids

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.   Experiencing either of these issues may happen on occasion or can become chronic -occurring more than three times a week, for at least three months. 

Whether problems getting adequate sleep occurs occasionally or is a nightly struggle, it can lead to complications such as fatigue or problems concentrating which prompts many to seek relief.  

There are a number of ways to get relief from the effects of insomnia, one of which includes taking over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids.

Over-the-counter sleep aids are widely available but should be used as a temporary solution (no longer than two weeks). Sleep experts advise against regular use because most OTC sleep aids rely on antihistamines to promote drowsiness. Others may also combine the pain reliever Acetaminophen or alcohol along with antihistamine as their primary active ingredients.

Long-term use of sleep aids containing these ingredients can lead to:

  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Feeling off balance
  • Constipation or urinary retention
  • Blurred vision
  • Dependency

It is important to keep in mind that OTC sleep aids are often not recommended for people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe liver disease, sleep apnea or close-angle glaucoma.

Sleep aids may be used to provide temporary relief for insomnia; however, they should not be used as a replacement for creating healthy sleeping habits or seeking proper treatment.

Healthy sleep habits include:

  • Avoiding excessive blue light from electronics or cellphones before going to sleep
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day if possible
  • Keeping naps short ( 30 minutes or less)
  • Avoiding caffeine or nicotine
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly

If you are suffering from the effects of insomnia, speak with your doctor before taking a sleep aid.  Your doctor can inform you of possible drug interactions or medications that can affect underlying health conditions.  They may also recommend making an appointment with a sleep specialist who can properly diagnose your condition and offer treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or prescribed sleep-inducing medications. To schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, please call 718-206-7001

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.