Over the Counter (OTC) Medications as Short-Term Sleep Aids

Over-the-counter medications for the treatment of a sleep problem are those that can be purchased without a prescription. Examples of over-the-counter sleep aids include:

  • Sleep-Eze
  • Sominex
  • Nytol, and others.

OTC sleep medications should only be used on a short term basis, since extended use of these medications can actually exacerbate insomnia. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, antihistamine is the most common ingredient in OTC sleep aids.

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The OTC sleep medications rely on the sedating effects of the antihistamine to facilitate sleep. If patients attempt to use an OTC sleep aid, they should immediately discontinue their use if they experience any adverse side effects such as:

  • dry mouth
  • dry eyes
  • urinary retention
  • confusion
  • drowsiness the following day
  • forgetfulness
  • constipation

In addition, these sleep medications may interact negatively with other medications, so a doctor should be consulted prior to using these for a sleeping problem. It should also be noted that the sleep that is experienced when taking over-the-counter sleeping aids is not of the same quality as normal sleep. Research has demonstrated that some people who take OTC sleep aids spend as little as 5% of their total sleep time in deep sleep as compared to approximately 10% to 25% in healthy sleepers.