Prescription and OTC sleeping pills

Battling insomnia night after night can leave you frustrated and exhausted. Sleeping pills may help, but they're not without risks. Get the scoop on the pros and cons of sleep aids. By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've followed the usual tips for getting enough sleep — sticking to a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, exercising regularly, and managing stress. Still, it's been weeks and a good night's sleep remains elusive. Is it time to consider sleeping pills?

Over-the-counter sleep aids

Before you pick up over-the-counter sleeping pills, check in with your doctor. Your doctor can evaluate whether an underlying medical disorder is contributing to or causing your sleep problems.

It's also a good idea to ask your doctor if over-the-counter sleeping pills will interact with medications you take or complicate existing health problems.

Here's a list of common choices and potential side effects:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Unisom SleepGels). Diphenhydramine is a sedating antihistamine. Side effects might include daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and memory problems.
  • Doxylamine (Unisom SleepTabs). Doxylamine is a sedating antihistamine. Side effects are similar to diphenhydramine, including daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and memory problems.
  • Melatonin. The hormone melatonin helps control your natural sleep-wake cycle. Some research suggests that melatonin supplements might be helpful in treating jet lag or reducing the time it takes to fall asleep — although the effect is typically mild. The most common melatonin side effects include daytime sleepiness, dizziness and headaches.
  • Valerian. Supplements made from this plant might reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as promote better sleep overall. However, the active ingredient isn't clear and potency can vary. Side effects of valerian supplements might include headache, abdominal discomfort, excitability or uneasiness, and heart disturbances.

If your sleep problems continue after trying over-the-counter sleep aids, see your doctor. He or she can evaluate whether prescription sleeping pills might be appropriate for you.

Sept. 28, 2013 See more In-depth