Nonprescription sleep medicines

Some people may need nonprescription sleeping pills from time to time to help them fall asleep. Examples of sleep medicines available without a prescription include Nytol, Sominex, and Sleep-Eze. All of these contain diphenhydramine, which is a type of antihistamine. Using an over-the-counter medicine now and then is okay. But sleep medicine works best as a short-term treatment combined with lifestyle and behavior changes.

Most over-the-counter sleep medicines can be used safely for 7 to 10 days. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Talk to your doctor before you take over-the-counter sleep medicine if:

  • You are or could be pregnant, or you are breast-feeding.
  • You take other medicines (with or without a prescription) to help you sleep or to treat other health problems.

When you take over-the-counter sleeping pills for a short time, side effects may include:

  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Dizziness.

Over time, using sleeping pills can:

  • Hide the real reason for poor sleep, such as a medical problem.
  • Make you feel less alert the next day.
  • Cause other health problems, such as anxiety, depression, blurred vision, loss of appetite, or nausea.
  • Cause serious medical problems when you take them with alcohol or drugs.
  • Become habit-forming and lead to dependence. When this happens, your sleep problems may get worse when you stop taking the medicine.

There are other ways to improve your sleep besides using medicine. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle and behavior changes you can try to help you sleep.

Last Updated: December 8, 2008

Author: Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine

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