Insomnia and Sleep Aids

Insomnia is extremely common complaint and many people end up using sleeping pills for months or years at a time without realizing they were designed only for short term (extreme stress, travel, tragic event, or other special circumstances).

Even though sleeping pills can induce drowsiness many don’t actually promote deep sleep or REM sleep. REM sleep, one of five stages of our sleep cycle is what many experts call “restful sleep” where we dream. Reduction in REM sleep leads to less satisfying or less restorative sleep that is why one may not feel completely rested after taking sleeping pills even after 8 hours of sleep. It exacerbates the effect of sleep issues.

Common over the counter (OTC) Sleep Aids:

Diphenhydramine (antihistamine)

Brand names: Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, ZzzQuil, Unisom SleepGels, Nytol, Sominex, Sleepinal, Compoz, Simply Sleep.
The problem with antihistamines is that their sedating properties often last well into the next day, leading to a next-day hangover effect. Antihistamines make you sleepy, people build up tolerance to them over time and when they stop taking them they experience rebound insomnia. It may be helpful for occasional bouts of insomnia, but the biggest concern is with taking it regularly (2 or more weeks of regular use).When used long-term, they can also cause forgetfulness and headaches.
Common side effects: moderate to severe drowsiness the next day, forgetfulness, dizziness, decreased alertness, clumsiness, blurred vision, dry mouth/throat, nausea, blurred vision, constipation, and urinary retention.


Brand names: Unison SleepGels, Nighttime Sleep Aid
Common side effects: similar to Antihistamines


Melatonin is a hormone believed to play a central role in regulating sleep and circadian rhythms. It reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and assists synchronization of the circadian “clock” with the day-night cycle and attenuates the wake promoting signal (eases jet lag and delayed sleep phase disorder). However, precaution should be taken because it might make bleeding worse in people with bleeding disorders, symptoms of depression worse, increase blood sugar in diabetic patients, raise blood pressure, and might increase risk of having a seizure.
Common side effects: daytime drowsiness, depressed mood, headache, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability.
Therefore, if you're having a sleep problem that lasts a few days, talk to your doctor about your concerns.