Insomnia, The necessity of sleep, How is insomnia treated?, Resources
Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids
Actions during the day and in the hours just prior to bedtime impact how easy it is to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get restful sleep.
Many over-thecounter (OTC) drugs are used for insomnia, most of which contain antihistamine, diphenhydramine, or doxylamine. Various problems attend using these drugs on a regular basis: drug tolerance
; dependency (meaning a person comes to rely habitually on the drug to assure sleeping well); and various side effects, such as drowsiness the next day. These drugs can also cause problems for users who have certain existing conditions, for example, allergies, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and glaucoma
. Most of these drugs should not be used during pregnancy. In addition to OTC drugs, certain herbs are believed to assist sleep, such as valerian. While some people may have allergic responses to herbs, other side effects are not associated with them. But even with herbal remedies, use should be as needed rather than habitual.
Prescription sleep medications are highly effective in treating insomnia, but they have disadvantages, chief among which may be physical and psychological dependency. These controlled substances can be abused and if abused can be dangerous and even life threatening. Prescription sleep medications may contain benzodiazepine (Restoril), eszopiclone (Lunesta), or zolpidem (Ambien). The second and third of these have reduced dependency risk.
For both OTC and prescription sleep aids, users should follow directions carefully, use only as needed rather than habitually, avoid alcohol consumption within several hours of taking the sleep aid, and inform any physician caring for the user of the drug's use. Sleep aids can be effective in special situations, such as in travel across time zones and following certain medical procedures. But they must be used with caution and care and only as needed.
See also Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders: Overview
• Depressive Disorders: Overview
• Jet Lag
• Sleep Disorders: Overview
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2510 N. Frontage Rd., Darien, IL 60561. Telephone: 630-737-9700. Website:
(accessed July 20, 2015).
Office on Women's Health. Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Ave., SW Room 712E, Washington, DC 20201. Telephone: 202-690-7650. Website:
(accessed July 20, 2015).
* neurotransmitters (nur-otrans-MIH-terz) are chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses, or messages, throughout the brain and nervous system and are involved in the control of thought, movement, and other body functions.
* hormones are chemical substances that are produced by various glands and sent into the bloodstream carrying messages that have certain effects on other parts of the body.
* chronic (KRAH-nik) means lasting a long time or recurring frequently.
* depression (de-PRESH-un) is a mental state characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, and discouragement.
* psychological (SI-ko-LOJ-i-kal) refers to mental processes, including thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
* glaucoma is a group of disorders that cause pressure to build in the eye, which may result in vision loss.
* tolerance (TALL-uh-runce) is a condition in which a person needs more of a drug to feel the original effects of the drug.