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Sleep Aids: Everything You Need to Know


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January 9, 2023

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Sleep Aids

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One of the most common sleep disorders is insomnia, afflicting up to 80% of the population, and 15% suffer from chronic insomnia. And even after following the usual tips for getting enough sleep, including a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, and exercising regularly; people find it hard to get sleep.

Therefore, to address this issue, people turn to sleep aids, either prescribed or some other. But let’s not forget that sleep is a complex and widely prevalent psychological state affected by medications. So, administering sleep aids could either help you sleep or let you drown in its side effects. So, does that make sleep aids the best supplements for sleep or not?

This article reflects a trend towards using prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids as well as the best supplements for sleep, such as natural sleep aid, along with the benefits and drawbacks of sleep aids. Keep reading to find out everything about sleep aids and their facts backed up by science.

What Are Sleep Aids

Sleep aids are medications that are commonly called “tranquilizers,” “sleeping pills,” or “sedatives.” They have a relaxing and calming effect and are often prescribed to older adults who have difficulty sleeping. Sleep aids are available by prescription and over the counter.

Sleep disorders are generally divided into 3 large groups. First are those producing insomnia, such as disorders that include complaints of difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or nonrestorative sleep. Second, are those with a primary complaint of daytime sleepiness. 

And lastly, are those associated with disruptive behaviors during sleep—the disorders of arousal. Moreover, a range of medications are used to treat these disorders. But before getting onto the potential drawbacks and benefits of sleep aids, let’s discuss how commonly are sleep aids used. 

How Commonly Are Sleep Aids Used

The field of sleep disorders medicine has become increasingly complex, with a larger group of disorders that produce mental or physical discomfort affecting sleep. More than 90 sleep disorders are described with clear diagnostic criteria, and sleep aids are commonly used to treat insomnia and occasional sleeplessness.

Around 50 million to 70 million adults in the U.S. have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. Data from the National Health Interview Survey indicated that 62% of adults in the U.S. slept seven to eight hours, while 28% slept six or fewer hours. And approximately 4% of U.S. adults administer prescription sleep aids, while 11% use non-medicinal sleep aids or sleep remedies like tea or melatonin.

Benefits of Sleep Aids

The primary function and benefits of sleep aids are that they induce drowsiness to help you fall asleep or increase the likelihood that you will stay asleep through the night. Sleep aids act like calming herbs for sleep; they help temporarily improve sleep by alleviating daytime drowsiness and impaired thinking from sleep deprivation.

They may reset your sleep schedule, enabling you to get more sleep or preventing early awakening. However, most sleep aids are not meant for long-term use. Therefore, treatment for certain sleep disorders often combines a sleep aid with practical steps. Practical steps like good sleep hygiene, adequate exercise, avoidance of alcohol and caffeine, and attention to the details of regular sleep habits.

Drawbacks of Sleep Aids

Historically, sleep aids have been some of the most commonly prescribed drugs. Due to this unfortunate turn of events, in the years leading up to the 1960s, these medications led to drug abuse and a significant danger of overdose. Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Jim Morrison, among others, were celebrities who died during this era from overdoses of sedatives or sleeping pills.

Sleep aids can be effective for an occasional sleepless night. However, sleep-promoting agents can produce adverse effects. In other words, all sleeping pills have side effects. 

These effects vary depending on the specific drug, the dosage, and how long it stays in your system. Side effects can interfere with the quality of life and include prolonged drowsiness, headache, muscle aches, constipation, dry mouth, trouble concentrating, dizziness, unsteadiness, and rebound insomnia. 

Sleep aids can also affect memory and lead to impaired short-term memory and amnesia. Furthermore, hypnotics, particularly antipsychotics, can exacerbate the symptoms of restless legs syndrome and increase the risks of death. 

What Are Different Types of Sleep Aids

Insomnia is of three basic types. Acute insomnia, primary chronic insomnia, and associated insomnia. Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia that can last from a few days to a few weeks, caused by a triggering causal factor, for example, stress or a traumatic event. 

Several predisposing factors like hyperactivity, stress, anxiety, depression, abnormalities in the circadian rhythm, behavioral changes and cognitive characteristics can cause chronic insomnia. 

And lastly, associated insomnia is related to an underlying mental or mood disorder, such as dysthymia, cyclothymia, or bipolar disorder. There are several types of medications used to treat insomnia as sleeping aids, including:

Natural Sleep Aids

Several medicinal plants traditionally have sedative properties for inducing relaxing and calming effects. Valerian, lavender, passionflower, and ginseng are one of the best herbs for sleep and relaxation used as a natural sleep remedy.

Evidence suggests that lavender (Lavandula) have a variety of therapeutic and curative properties, ranging from inducing relaxation to treating parasitic infections, burns, insect bites, and spasm. The extracts from passion flowers (Passiflora incarnata) can be considered appropriate sleep inducers. And valerian, as well as ginseng, are demonstrated to promote sleep and reduce anxiety.

In addition, the nutritional supplement industry claims vitamins for sleep, as typified by valerian. However, the direct link between vitamins and insomnia is unclear, but some studies show an association between vitamins and other sleep disorders. 

It was identified that vitamin B complexes are a helpful treatment for nocturnal leg cramps. And iron deficiency may be related to restless leg syndrome or periodic leg movement disorder, affecting sleep maintenance. Studies also point to the possibility that sleep may be affected by vitamin and mineral intake or lack of these substances.

Over-The-Counter Supplements

Over-the-counter supplements are medications purchased without a prescription that helps self-manage the symptoms. The OTC sleep aids include diphenhydramine or doxylamine, “first-generation antihistamines.”

Diphenhydramine is found in various products, including Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, Excedrin PM, Advil PM, and Unisom SleepGels. Similarly, doxylamine is found in Unisom SleepTabs, Equaline Sleep Aid, and Good Sense Sleep Aid. Other products contain diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl, and various pain relief-sleep combinations.

Although these OTC medicines from pharmacies can help individuals self-manage symptoms, some OTC medicines may be abused, with addiction and harm. Easy access to some medicines, such as OTC medications, causes the population to self-medicate

Researchers have observed an increase in the use of pharmaceutical drugs by the general population. This increase is influenced by several factors: increased age, higher access to medication, and increased self-diagnosis and treatment. 

This could be highly dangerous, as incorrect self-diagnosis or the ingestion of inappropriate doses can lead to side effects. It can also lead to adverse reactions. 

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are prescribed by doctors and bought at a pharmacy. The prescription drug is prescribed for and intended to be used by one person. And before a prescription drug can be sold, it must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Prescription drugs are approved through the New Drug Application (NDA) process. It is the formal step a drug sponsor takes to ask that the FDA consider approving a new drug for marketing in the United States. 

So once the drugs get approved, patients should get a prescription from their doctors to obtain the medicines from the pharmacy. This is because different classes of drugs cause sleepiness. For example, 

  • Benzodiazepines (BZDs): BDZs decrease brain activity to induce sleepiness. They are routinely used as sleep aids for children to control seizures. They are also used as anxiolytics in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia.
  • Z drugs: This class of sleep aids is similar to benzodiazepines (BZDs). They help slow down brain activity to prompt a sedative effect and are safe for treating insomnia in older adults.
  • Orexin Receptor Antagonists (ORAs): These are the newer medications developed to treat insomnia. The ORAs block orexin production, a chemical in the brain that makes you alert. 

Sedative Antidepressants: Depression associated with insomnia is likely a different diagnostic entity than depression without insomnia, and sedating antidepressants are often used to treat such insomnia.

Are Sleeping Aids Safe During Pregnancy

Insomnia and sleep deficiency in pregnancy is widespread and more prevalent as pregnancy progresses. This is possibly due to pregnancy-related physical symptoms or discomfort. Treatment during pregnancy can be challenging as some of the more commonly used sleep-inducing medications, such as benzodiazepines, are associated with adverse effects. 

In addition, due to the limited data regarding reproductive safety, sleep aids while pregnant is probably the last resort. Doctors try not tp prescribe the use of sleep aids during pregnancy. However, the use of prescribed sleep aids does not seem to influence the condition of the offspring during the first week of life.


Sure, a good night’s sleep is good. But if you are troubled by constant tossing and turning, talk to your healthcare provider before trying over-the-counter sleep aids. 

However, frequent non drug treatments and behavioral changes such as a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, and exercising regularly, are all you need for improved sleep. Even so, if you do need sleep aids, a prescription sleeping pill may be a better choice.


The best sleep aids are prescribed ones. Because after doctors diagnose their patients, they write prescriptions depending on the symptoms, which can vary from person to person.

According to Forbes, the most popular natural sleep aids include melatonin, GABA, tryptophan, 5-HTP, CBD and THC, valerian root, and lavender.

Melatonin, taken under the guidance of doctors, is the best sleep aid product, with far fewer side effects than a sleeping pill.

Natural sleep aids such as melatonin, lavender, or valerian root are the safest sleep aids with fewer side effects.

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