Sleep aids are medicines or herbs that help a person sleep. There are several ways that sleep aids can help people rest better. Some disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythms, while others block certain chemicals in the brain and make a person feel sleepy.
Sleep acts as a reset for many body systems and is one of the most important aspects of overall health. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to several long-term health conditions.
Over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription sleep medications tend to use chemical compounds or medications to help people fall asleep. Natural remedies can include herbs and natural compounds.
Sleep aids alone are not enough to achieve and maintain a healthy sleep cycle. Anyone who uses them should also look for other methods to regulate their sleep schedule.
Over the counter sleep aids
Over-the-counter sleep aids are available without a prescription at many grocery stores and drug stores. They include the following:
Melatonin is an important hormone that the body creates naturally. Melatonin signals the brain and body that it is time to sleep. It also plays a role in a person’s circadian cycle, which is the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle that helps humans respond day and night.
Melatonin can also help people with sleep disorders fall asleep more easily. As the authors of a 2017 review note, evidence suggests that melatonin may be helpful for people experiencing certain sleep disorders, such as insomnia and delayed sleep phase syndrome. It can also help blind people who have a hard time regulating their sleep cycle.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that melatonin can also help with other minor sleep problems, such as jet lag. Melatonin appears to be safe for short-term use in people with sleep problems, but there isn’t much research on its long-term safety.
Glycine is a natural amino acid that helps regulate the central nervous system. It can also help control sleep and improve sleep quality. Research has shown that taking glycine before bed improves both objective and subjective sleep markers.
Researchers noted that glycine helps lower body temperature, which is a sign that it is time for the body to fall asleep. It also helps regulate the circadian rhythm. However, scientists do not understand exactly how it has these effects, so future research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness of glycine as a sleep aid.
Diphenhydramine is a key ingredient in many allergy medications, but it can also make a person feel groggy and promote sleep. Because of this effect, it is a common ingredient in over-the-counter products that manufacturers claim to help people sleep, such as nighttime cough syrups. However, the compound can significantly reduce mental alertness, so it is important that a person only take it when they are ready for sleep. A person can quickly develop a tolerance to diphenhydramine, making it less effective over time.
Doxylamine is another antihistamine and its effects are similar to those of diphenhydramine. It can cause drowsiness and promote sleep in some people, although its main function is to treat symptoms of an allergy or cold.
Prescription sleep medications
The following are some sleep aids that people can use with a prescription:
Benzodiazepines are primarily for anxiety disorders, but they can also promote sleep. They are a type of sedative-hypnotic medication and are not suitable for long-term use as they can be habit-forming or addicting. They can also build resistance in the body quickly, which means they will be less effective over time.
These prescription drugs can be powerful and lead to a risk of abuse or other side effects. Therefore, doctors only prescribe them in very specific circumstances, such as for people with chronic sleep problems. Benzodiazepines include:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Sedative-hypnotic sleeping pills