Insomnia makes everything worse. When you can’t sleep, it’s like you’re seeing through a haze and moving through quicksand. You likely feel a notable lack of energy, hazy brain fog, or the inability to focus. If you’d like to have an easier time falling and staying asleep, check out some of the best sleep aids available over the counter and with a prescription. Discuss them with your doctor to pinpoint the best solutions for your needs.
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Causes of Insomnia
Everyone’s mind works differently, so researchers with the American Physiological Society tried to find a list of causes that most frequently affect people. Its 2021 findings outlined multiple potential insomnia triggers, including:
- Ruminating thoughts while falling asleep
- Genetic predispositions
- Childhood adversity
- Emotional distress
- Lifetime traumas
Insomnia can also be the result of environmental issues, medical or health problems and alcohol withdrawal. The variety of factors potentially triggering insomnia in people of all ages makes it more challenging to find a solution. However, you can consider the following sleep aids to finally get some much-needed rest.
Natural Sleep Aids
Understanding what causes insomnia is the first step toward finding a treatment that works best for you. However, it’s also crucial to learn about how insomnia affects the brain. Not getting a sufficient amount of sleep can lead to medical problems such as decreased productivity, depression, immune dysfunction, and more.
Dr. Steven Olmos, DDS, whose medical focus includes how the airway is a critical component of dealing with sleep issues, recommends the following tips for improving sleep:
- Spray the nose with a nasal spray – keeping the nasal passages free of irritants will open the airway, allowing for a better night’s sleep, thin any congested mucus, and keeps the nose moisturized in dry climates – Dr. Olmos recommends Xlear, an all-natural, xylitol-based nasal spray with 30K+ Amazon reviews that is non-addictive and can be used for both children and adults.
- Open the nasal valve with products like nasal dilators or nasal strips
- Stay away from meals high in sugar, saturated fat and low in fiber before bed. These stimulants will disturb restful sleep and make people more tired when they wake
- Sleep in a dark room without noise and distractions
You can also try these all-natural resources when you’re ready to begin the journey to better nightly sleep.
Practicing deep breathing is a great natural sleep aid because it doesn’t cost a cent and you can do it anywhere and any time. Mindfulness requires you be present in your mind and body, thinking of neither the past nor the future. Focusing on your breath makes this easier, and may also , according to a 2023 study in Nature.
“Your breath is one of the most efficient tools to help you sleep and the benefits are plentiful, with one of the primary benefits of breathing exercises being that they can help to calm your nervous system,” says Stephanie Broes, Ph.D., a TK for TK institution/company.
Broes explains that your body produces cortisol when you’re stressed or anxious, which can make it difficult to sleep. Deep breathing exercises have been found in a study published in Frontiers in Psychology and other research to reduce cortisol levels, which may make it easier for you to relax and drift off.
She recommends the following breathing exercise that you can do in bed:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
- Breathe in deeply for five seconds
- Hold the breath for three seconds
- Exhale for another five seconds
“Do this for 5 to 10 minutes before bedtime or whenever you find yourself tossing and turning,” says Broes. “Just like any sort of exercise, the more you practice breathing exercises, the better your body responds to them, meaning you’ll be able to fall asleep faster at night every time you try.”
You’ve heard of personal hygiene, but many people haven’t learned about sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene may entail a nightly wind-down ritual, avoiding fluids and caffeine too close to bedtime, going to sleep at a consistent time, avoiding screens, and more. Generally there’s no special equipment needed and little to no downside to improving your sleep hygiene.
People often rely on melatonin as an over-the-counter sleep aid. It’s a plant-based compound that may improve sleep onset by regulating the melatonin hormone levels your brain naturally produces. It can help you fall asleep faster, which may be your primary nightly challenge.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., believes melatonin is one of the most effective sleep aids. Hsu earned his medical doctor degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2016. During his training, he worked with a multitude of pediatric and adult patients with chronic and acute conditions. “It works the same way the body’s natural hormone melatonin does: it cues the body that it’s time to sleep, encouraging it to turn the “rest and digest” mode on. Melatonin can help people regain their circadian rhythms, but it must be combined with lifestyle changes and healthy sleep hygiene.”
Michelle Giordano, a Community Counselor and Outreach Specialist for “Live Another Day,” also references melatonin as a resource for those living with insomnia. “Melatonin, a hormone, aids in managing the body’s normal sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin pills may help alleviate jet lag or shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, according to some study, however the effect is often slight. Headaches, nauseousness, and daytime tiredness are possible side effects. For positive results, routinely administer 3–10 mg of melatonin supplant just before bed.”
Lavender Essential Oil
An essential oil diffuser and a bottle of lavender oil may do more than just make your bedroom smell nice. A 2021 study from the Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Sciences found that participants reported improved sleep quality after sleeping in the same room as a diffuser producing lavender oil steam. Try it yourself with a diffuser that operates even after you fall asleep.
Valerian Root Tea
If you enjoy herbal teas, consider trying valerian root. It’s a natural herb that may reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, easing the mind into better sleep if enjoyed before bed. Although strong scientific evidence (i.e. studies in humans) is sparse, a 2021 study in Oman Medical Journal reported that valerian root improved sleep quality, depression, and anxiety in people on hemodialysis.
People often picture tea when they think of chamomile, but you can also find it as sleeping pills over the counter or an extract oil. It comes from the chamomile flower, which is a global plant.
Researchers writing in a recent study published in Biomedicine found that chamomile extract improved melatonin hormone production in participants with insomnia. Tea, diffused oil, or supplement pills may help your mind fall asleep faster.
It’s crucial to note that side effects from drinking or injesting chamomile are uncommon. Anaphylaxis is even more rare, given that the only people likely to experience these side effects are individals who are also allergic to similar plants like ragweed, marigolds or chrysanthemums.
May Rebecca Shorrock, a holistic therapist specializing in scent and stress, talks with her patients about using chamomile as an organic insomnia treamtent. “My clients have shown astounding progress in their battles with stress-induced insomnia by using lavender and chamomile.
Exposing them to the scent of lavender around 30 minutes before bedtime has improved the quality of my clients’ sleep by up to 20%, and the quantity of sleep has also increased.
Similarly, chamomile tea an hour before bed has had profound effects on the quantity of sleep, with increased sleep length of up to 2 hours in some clients.
Both of these products are completely natural and, when combined with a healthy lifestyle and meditation exercises, my clients have seen better results than with medications like Zolpidem.”
OTC Sleep Medications
If you’ve tried deep breathing, nightly relaxation rituals, herbal teas, or other natural sleep aids with little success, your next step may be over-the-counter sleep medications. They’re another option if herbal remedies don’t help or you’d like another resource for your sleep routine.
You might take diphenhydramine when you start having an allergic reaction to pollen or other irritants. It’s also known as Benadryl but can come as other off-brand labels. Antihistamine is one of the best sleep aids because it causes drowsiness as it reduces the brain’s production of histamines. Medications with diphenhydramine as a primary ingredient could be an excellent place to start if you’re looking for sleeping pills over the counter.
Michelle Giordano recommends diphenhydramine as another potential treatment for insomnia patients. “Diphenhydramine: is an an antihistamine that has received FDA approval and is frequently sold under the trade name Benadryl. It can be found in a wide range of brand-name over-the-counter painkillers and fever reducers, such as Advil PM, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Tylenol PM, and ZzzQuil.
Diphenhydramine-containing medications may be suggested or administered for sporadic episodes of sleepiness. Participants in several research received the prescribed amount of 50 mg, and the findings indicate that benefits in sleep quality are at best. Diphenhydramine used at night has also been linked to diminished wakefulness the next day and psychomotor deficits. In elderly people, because of slow down metabolism, drugs have a longer half-life and last longer when taken regularly, which can be problematic in the long run.
Diphenhydramine should also be used with caution by teenagers and young adults. Diphenhydramine overdoses, according to the FDA, can cause fatal medical conditions such seizures, heart attacks, comas, and death.”
Anyone searching for otc sleep aids can also consider doxylamine succinate. It’s an antihistamine like Benadryl but more potent. Research from a 2022 study in the Turkish Journal of Psychiatry shows that the medication’s more potent effects may lead to addiction if taken over the average recommended dose of 25 milligrams per day.
Talk with your doctor if you’re interested in trying this insomnia remedy. They can recommend the best dosage for your health needs and guide you through your experience.
Taking a higher dosage of CBD may increase REM sleep latency, which makes it easier for your brain to begin its nightly sleep cycle. Your sleep cycle includes rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages that regulate your brain’s functionality. People who can’t sleep regularly may not complete one or either of the sleep cycle stages, leading to exhaustion and other symptoms.
While you might take vitamins for sleep and search for other organic remedies, consider trying a CBD product before bed. It’s a plant-derived resource that could improve your nightly sleep by activating your sleep cycle faster.
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
Look for magnesium supplements as you browse over-the-counter sleep aid options online or at your local pharmacy. It’s a nutrient the body requires to regulates the sleep cycle, but some people experience magnesium deficiencies due to genetics or health conditions.
Taking magnesium as a natural sleep remedy could improve your nightly rest. People with insomnia who participated in a recent study in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies slept for longer periods after taking a magnesium supplement.
- Low blood pressure
Prescription Sleep Meds
You might require something more substantial than a natural aid or a change in routine. When you’re ready to meet with your doctor, discuss these prescription sleep meds to understand your options better.
You might hear people claim Restoril is one of the best sleep aids. The FDA-approved drug is a GABA receptor agonist and modulator that reduces nerve activity in the brain by reducing how quickly nerves can fire.
Your brain has nerves that are continuously firing so it can regulate your bodily processes. When those nerves fail to slow down at night, your thoughts may remain busy while you struggle to sleep. GABA receptor agonists like Restoril may improve insomnia symptoms and even reduces seizure recurrences by slowing active nerve endings.
However, doctors often recommend it as a short-term solution of seven- to 10-day uses. If the insomnia persists after 10 days, they may recommend psychiatric evaluation or further testing for medical illnesses that may cause the insomnia. Other influencing conditions would mean different treatment methods that are more effective because they address the root problem.
Your doctor may recommend trying Restoril while taking vitamins for sleep as a long-term solution alongside short-term prescriptions. It depends on your health history and what they advise.
- Vivid dreams
- Dry mouth
Staying asleep might be your primary nightly challenge, but Lunesta can help. It’s a sedative prescription that doctors advise as a long-term solution for patients who can’t stay asleep.
The medication has a long half-life, so it often provides seven to eight hours of sleep when taken at bedtime. As you search for the best sleep aid for adults, don’t forget to discuss prescriptions like Lunesta with your primary care provider.
- Dry mouth
- Runny nose
Antidepressants like Silenor can solve sleep problems for people who don’t get the help they need with a natural sleep remedy or lifestyle change. Silenor (doxepin) improves nightly sleep quality by slowing brain activity and making you drowsy. It may be a good solution for people with insomnia if their doctor agrees they may benefit from the antidepressant side effects as well.
- Lingering cough
Suvorexant is the primary ingredient in Belsomra. The orexin antagonist medication enhances sleep quality and timeliness by causing the orexin receptors to slow in activity. These receptors are hypothalamic neuropeptides that work continuously to regulate functions like wakefulness, feeding behavors and neuroendocrine production.
People who take Belsomra or suvorexant often get better quality sleep because their nervous system begins working in their best interest. As the orexin receptors slow down, the mind can ease into the first stage of the sleep cycle more easily.
- Dry mouth
A melatonin receptor antagonist like Rozerem could become one of the best sleep aids you can try. The primary ingredient is ramelteon, which bonds to your melatonin receptors and reduces their neuronal firing so you immediately feel sleepy. You could easily fall asleep by taking something like Rozerem with your doctor’s approval.
- Depressive thoughts
Risks of Sleep Aids
There are a few health risks to consider before trying sleep aids. You can always consult your doctor if you have any questions about supplements or prescription medications that you want to try.
Some organic supplements may interfere with medications, depending on the herb and which prescriptions you currently take for health concerns unrelated to your sleep. They can also cause minor symptoms when taken in large doses or on empty stomachs, like valerian root causing stomach cramping if you brew your tea longer than indicated.
Prescription medications will also come with health risk warnings on the packages. Common side effects of sleep aids include drowsiness because patients typically take them before bed. Dry mouth, nausea and headaches can also occur, per the prescription side effects outlined above.
Always check the list of side effects on labels for any over-the-counter supplements or prescription medications before taking anything. Your doctor can also clarify if something is safe for you to try, given your health history and lifestyle.
The best sleep supplement for your insomnia might not be the first resource you try. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes, all-natural supplements, and prescription medications. You’ll narrow down your options to find the best solution for your sleep needs alongside the help of a physician who knows your health history.
Also Read: Six Tips From The Experts To Sleep Better