Sleep aids: Understand over-the-counter options

Trouble sleeping? Over-the-counter sleep aids might help temporarily — but lifestyle changes are usually the best approach for chronic insomnia. By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've followed the usual tips for getting enough sleep — sleeping on 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 for an over-the-counter sleep aid? Here's what you need to know if you're considering medication to help you sleep.

Sleep aids: Not a magic cure

Over-the-counter sleep aids can be effective for an occasional sleepless night. There are a few caveats, however. Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines can develop quickly — so the longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy. In addition, some over-the-counter sleep aids can leave you feeling groggy and unwell the next day. This is the so-called hangover effect. Medication interactions are possible as well, and much remains unknown about the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter sleep aids.

Dec. 10, 2011 See more In-depth