Sometimes sleep is hard to come by, and this can be especially frustrating when there is a long day ahead. Some prescription sleep medications have had scary side effects associated with them that deter people from using them, and sometimes precautions have to be taken to avoid memory loss, sleep driving, sleep cooking, and other potentially dangerous activities. We’ve picked out five sleep aids that are all considered to be non-addictive and have minimal side effects compared to some other sleep medications.
Melatonin – Melatonin is a substance naturally produced in the body. Melatonin plays a large role in the regulation of the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep cycle. In humans, melatonin is naturally released in larger quantities between midnight and 8 am to promote sleep. As we age, melatonin production slows which is why many older people have trouble sleeping. Melatonin can be taken in the form of pills or drops to help those who have trouble falling asleep. Because it is a substance that naturally occurs in the body, melatonin has little to no side effects.
Diphenhydramine – Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine medication, more commonly known as Benadryl. It is also marketed as an over-the-counter sleep medication called Unisom, and it is available as a generic. Histamine is another substance naturally produced in the body. Most people know that histamine plays a role in inflammation and allergies, but what is less commonly known is that it also plays a role in wakefulness. Diphenhydramine is an older antihistamine that crosses the blood-brain barrier, so it is able to block the waking function of histamine in the brain. This is why it causes drowsiness. Diphenhydramine can cause extreme drowsiness in some people, so it should be taken with caution.
Doxylamine -- is another antihistamine that crosses the blood-brain barrier and is used to promote sleep. This over-the-counter sleep medication is used in Unisom Sleep Tabs and is also available as a generic OTC drug. Doxylamine can also cause extreme drowsiness in some individuals and should be taken with caution.
Valerian -- Valerian is a flowering plant with several medicinal properties that has been used since the times of ancient Rome. Valerian causes drowsiness because it acts on GABA receptors. This is also how the majority of prescription sleep medications work, such as Ambien and Lunesta. However, Valerian has a much milder effect. Nevertheless, it should be used with caution. It can be purchased in the form of a tea or in capsules.
Rozerem (ramelteon) – Rozerem is a non-habit forming prescription sleep aid. It works by binding to and activating melatonin receptors to promote sleep. Rozerem has fewer side effects than other prescription sleep medications and is less likely to have a hangover effect the following day. Rozerem is a fairly new drug and there are currently no generic options available.
Remember any substance you put into your body can potentially have adverse effects including allergic reactions and dangerous drug interactions. If you take other medications, you should ask your doctor about the concomitant safe use of these sleep aids. The above sleep aids are not a cure for insomnia, and cognitive behavioral therapy should be considered for the treatment of chronic insomnia. For more information about sleep conditions and sleep medications, view our Sleep Condition Page.