Although all of the products mentioned to this point have been used to improve sleep, there are only two active ingredients that have been studied and approved for use as OTC sleep aids. These drugs are diphenhydramine and doxylamine, and they are available as both single ingredients and in combination with other drugs (such as pain relievers). You might recognize these drugs from other products, as they are commonly featured in cough, cold and allergy treatments, because they are also antihistamines. These products can be useful to help you get to sleep, but may make your sleep less restful. These drugs have the opposite effect on some people, especially children and the elderly, who can become more on edge after taking them.
Sometimes OTC medications are not effective, or you may suffer from chronic insomnia. In these cases you may want to consider prescription medications. Your doctor might prescribe a type of drug called a sedative-hypnotic. These drugs are meant to calm you and help you fall asleep. Sedative-hypnotics include zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zaleplon (Sonata). These are short-acting agents that work best to get you to sleep quickly. Ramelteon (Rozerem) is a prescription medication that works like melatonin. This might help regulate a person's sleep cycle. Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can also improve sleep, but should only be used at your doctor's discretion.
Remember that all of the medications used for insomnia are meant to make you tired. You should not drive or do anything else requiring a lot of concentration after taking any of these drugs. You also shouldn't combine different types of sedatives, as this can make you excessively sleepy. Some of these medications take a while to wear off and may cause a "hangover-like" effect the next morning. This can cause you to still feel sleepy when you wake up, even if you took them the night before. Be careful if you have to drive or focus on something important in the early morning. Make sure you will be able to get at least eight hours of sleep before taking any of these medications.
Seek Help for Insomnia
Insomnia may be disrupting your life, but there are solutions. Your doctor may need to do certain tests to verify if some other health condition is causing your sleep problems. Keep your doctor or pharmacist involved in your treatment. Making the right decisions in treating insomnia will help you get more restful sleep and function better during the day.
Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 12, 2011, on PharmacyTimes.com. It has been edited and republished by U.S. News.