Easy, Breezy Snoozes: Top Picks For Over The Counter Sleep Aids

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What was once a small tribe revolving around a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle a millennia ago has now evolved into a global society of high technology, growth, information, and wealth. Human society has advanced to a point beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

However, this rapid social advancement and change are not without a price. The need and demand for more money, material things, technology, information, and success have caused people to practice unhealthy lifestyles, which are now taking a serious toll on their health. One of the effects of these unhealthy practices is inadequate sleep, which can later lead to insomnia. Worse, long-term insomnia can lead to more serious health complications.

Fortunately, the pharmaceutical industry is taking to the frontlines against sleep disorders. Using effective sleep aids as their “weapons,” the industry strives to help you gain some much-needed, restful, and healthy shut-eye.

What Happens When You Sleep

It’s time to call it a day! You turn off the lights, lie down on your comfortable bed, put your blanket around you, and close your eyes. In a few minutes, you’re off to a trip to blissful unconsciousness. Sleeping seems so standard and automatic that you tend to forget about it. All you know is that as a human being, you simply do it as a biological function.

However, there is more than meets the eye when you doze off. While you are unconscious of your surroundings, several systems in your body go on overdrive! So let’s see what happens when a person sleeps.

Imagine that you are invited to the clinic of a somnologist (a medical professional who specializes in the study of sleep and treatment of sleeping disorders). He places sensors to a patient’s head. These sensors are then attached to a gadget called an electroencephalograph, a sophisticated machine that records brainwaves. The doctor then tells you to look at the machine’s monitor.

You would quickly see that the person, while he is still awake but relaxed, generates alpha waves, a type of brainwave. Alpha waves consistently oscillate at around 10 cycles a second at a frequency range of 8 to 12 hertz. If he is quite alert, perhaps due to some stress of being in a strange clinic and surrounded by strangers, he generates beta waves. Beta waves oscillate faster than alpha waves, around double the rate.

Now, the patient begins to lie on the bed and closes his eyes. Soon, he starts to slip to the nether realm. As he does so, two kinds of brainwaves— theta waves and delta waves—replace the alphas. Theta waves oscillate at 3.5 to 7cycles per second while delta waves at fewer than 3.5 cycles per second. As the person falls deeper into his sleep, his brainwave patterns slow down even more. The deeper his sleep is, the slower his brainwave patterns are. In fact, it is difficult to wake a person when he enters the delta wave sleep.

As the patient sleeps, you might notice a bulge in each of his closed eyelids several times in the night. The bulges seem to flicker back and forth rapidly. When this happens, the person has entered what is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. At this point, brainwave activity is similar to the brain’s activity when the person is fully awake. It is at this point when a person starts to dream. REM sleep usually lasts between 5 minutes to half an hour.

The person’s muscles are usually limp when he sleeps, thus he is prevented from actually acting out his dreams. Sometimes, though, the muscles do function nominally. That’s why you can observe some dreaming people twitch a lot.

If the patient wakes up during his REM sleep (for instance, you shake him enough), he can remember his dreams to the last detail. But if you wake him up before REM sleep (called NREM, or non-REM sleep), he won’t remember he is dreaming.

To achieve a quality, restful sleep, a person must experience both REM and NREM sleep. In general, a person spends 75% in NREM sleep, and 25% in REM sleep.

Impact of Adequate and Inadequate Sleep

Sleeping isn’t just a long resting period at the end of the day. It isn’t just a phase in which you could become a millionaire, be with your crush, or travel to other places in your dreams. Oh, it does more than those! Here are just some of the many positive effects of having adequate sleep.

  • When you sleep, your body rejuvenates itself. Your body’s systems replace dead cells, repair damaged tissues, and fight pathogens. Don’t believe us? Ask a professional bodybuilder what is the most important aspect of bulking up muscles. His answer would probably be a good night’s sleep. Why? This is the time when his muscle tissues, stressed and damaged during an intense workout, begin to heal. As they heal, they become bigger and stronger.
  • A sound sleep helps you archive and organize memories more effectively. Meaning, if you have good sleep, you can better remember things! Some scientists believe that dreaming is actually part of this memory enhancement process.
  • Sleeping decreases and saves energy consumption. It’s a way for your body to turn off unneeded systems and redirect that energy to healing itself.
  • Your body secretes different hormones. For example, hormones that encourage alertness are produced during daytime. On the other hand, growth hormones are created when you sleep. Sleep enables your body to produce the right hormones at the right time.
  • Having enough sleep helps stabilize metabolism by normalizing the hormones that control hunger (ghrelin and leptin). Believe it or not, if you want to lose weight and increase your energy during workouts, you better have some great shut-eye the night before!

This is why if you have a good night’s sleep, you feel refreshed and in a good mood in the morning; your brain and body are rejuvenated.

Sometimes though, having a restful sleep is difficult. Stress, an overload of mental activity, anxiousness, caffeine, and many other factors make sleeping a challenge. Most normal and healthy people experience sleeplessness at one time or the other.

However, there are people who have difficulty sleeping every night. Their sleeplessness could come from an ailment, the effects of medication, or even a behavioral pattern. Whatever the case, these people are virtually unable to get the smallest bit of shut-eye. Or, they may wake up frequently during the night, preventing them from having a continuous snooze.

In medical terminology, these people are said to be suffering from insomnia, a kind of sleep disorder. Insomnia can be an independent disorder or a side effect of another health problem. It can last for a few days to a few months. Around 10% to 30% of adults have insomnia. People who are 65 years old and older are more prone than those who are younger. Research also suggests that females are more prone to insomnia than males.

The effects of insomnia can be mild to severe. Whatever the case, the lack of sleep impacts the body negatively.

  • People who have insomnia tend to have become sleepy during the day. They have low energy and exhibit irritability or a depressed mood.
  • They lack focus and may have problems in learning and memorizing. More dangerous still, because their focus is found wanting, they may face an increased risk of being involved in accidents. The rate of committing mistakes increases.
  • A person who misses three nights of good sleep begins to hallucinate. Thinking clearly would be virtually impossible. If sleeplessness goes on, he may be unable to distinguish reality.
  • It is alarming, but there are studies that continued sleeplessness can result in death. This has been seemingly verified by news reports. For example, in 2011, a Chinese man died after he spent 3 days playing video games. During those three days, he did not sleep and barely ate.
  • The lack of sleep in children may impair their growth. That’s because it is during bedtime that their body secretes the hormones needed for normal growth.
  • The immune system works overtime when a person sleeps. Thus, the lack of sleep can reduce the immune system’s effectiveness, making the sufferer more prone to medical problems.

Best Over The Counter Sleep Aids

Are you suffering from insomnia? Well, you don’t need to worry. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective sleep medications that you can take. Many of these sleeping pills can be purchased over the counter. Of course, you should have your physician check you first before settling on a prescribed sleeping medication.

Here are some of our top picks for sleep aids you can easily buy at your closest drugstore:


Olly Sleep Melatonin Gummies


ZzzQuil Pure Zzzs Melatonin

advil pm

Advil PM Pain Reliever/Nighttime Sleep Aid

diphen new

SDA Laboratories Diphenhydramine

zzquil 1

ZzzQuil Pure Zzzs Kidz Melatonin

aura acacia

Aura Cacia Lavender Mist


Nobi Nutrition Magnesium Supplement

Olly Sleep Melatonin Gummies

ollyDo you hate bitter pills that are literally hard to swallow? This product may be the right one for you. Each chewable gummy contains natural melatonin; L-Theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation; and a botanical mix of chamomile and lemon balm to soothe you. Oh, each tablet tastes of pleasant, sweet blueberry!

ZzzQuil Pure Zzzs Melatonin

zzquilHere’s another tasty gummy; and this time, it’s strawberry rose! Pure Zzzs has the right amount of melatonin to help you sleep soundly without actually forming a drug-dependent habit. In addition, it contains ginger and grape seed extract to fight free radicals while you sleep. Pure Zzs is free from artificial flavors, lactose, gelatin, and gluten.

Nature Made Melatonin

nature madeYou get great value for your money because you get 120 tablets per bottle. Each tablet contains 3 mg of naturally sourced melatonin, a hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm, or a person’s body clock, and contains no artificial fillers. The product undergoes a carefully controlled and monitored process.

Natrol Melatonin

natrolIn addition to Vitamin B-6, each tablet of this product contains 6 mg of melatonin. The unique thing about Natrol is that it releases 3 mg of melatonin in two intervals thanks to the tablet’s bi-layer construction. It releases 3 mg of melatonin right before you sleep and another 3 mg later in the night. Natrol contains no artificial ingredients and preservatives.

Advil PM Pain Reliever/Nighttime Sleep Aid

advil pmA popular over-the-counter medicine, Advil’s patented dual-layer sleep aid tablets contain ibuprofen to relieve minor pains and diphenhydramine to induce soothing sleep.  These active ingredients are safe, effective, and non-habit forming.

SDA Laboratories Diphenhydramine

diphen newAntihistamine medication is generally used to alleviate allergies. One of the side effects of taking it, however, is drowsiness. It’s meant to induce sleepiness so that you’ll doze off while the medicine works on your allergies. So if you’re allergic to something and insomniac at the same time, this medicine is ideal for you!

ZzzQuil Pure Zzzs Kidz Melatonin

zzquil 1Sleeplessness doesn’t just affect adults. Children are also prone to bouts of insomnia. So if your child has trouble sleeping, give him this child-formulated insomnia medication. In addition to melatonin (in small doses for children, of course), it contains botanical extracts of lavender and chamomile to help soothe and relax their restless bodies. These are gummies with a natural berry flavor that kids love.

Aura Cacia Lavender Mist

aura acacia This unique sleep aid is not meant to be ingested. Rather, apply it on your skin as a calming body mist right before you sleep. It can also be sprayed on your sleep linens to make them smell sweet and conducive for sleeping. Alternatively, the product can be used to freshen up rooms. The sweet scent of fresh lavenders will truly calm your senses, making it easier for you to fall asleep.

Nobi Nutrition Magnesium Supplement

magnesiumThis is one of the best sleep aids for older adults or senior citizens. Each easy-to-swallow capsule contains magnesium to support optimum muscle function and healthy bones, relax blood vessels, and induce healthy digestion. This magnesium supplement also helps relieve tension and encourage calm and sound sleep.

Kirkland Sleep Aid

sleep aidAnother very popular OTC sleep aid, Kirkland’s sleep aid contains doxylamine succinate, which is stronger than diphenhydramine. This helps you fall asleep faster. The tablets are quite small, so they are very easy to swallow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Generally, they are safe and effective. However, just like any drug, you may feel some side effects. The side effects depend on a lot of factors---the active ingredients in the product, the recommended dosage, your overall health condition, and more. A good rule of thumb is to take the lowest recommended dose a few hours before sleeping.

However, it is still best to consult a physician before taking even OTC sleep aids. If you have health problems, pregnant, or breastfeeding, you definitely need to see a doctor before you buy and use any sleep aid.

Valerian is a flowering herb found in Eurasia. Ancient Romans and Greeks use it not just for treating insomnia but also for relieving headaches and nervousness. In particular, the root is used as an ingredient to brew a natural tea that helps stimulate sleep.

Valerian teas and supplements, however, are not regulated by the FDA. Thus, consult with a health professional before you decide to take it.

Sleep aids work best when it is combined with good sleep practices. Check out some of the recommended things you need to do in order to have a good sleep:

- Use a comfortable and ergonomic mattress that hugs your body in comfort.
- Establish and stick to a regular sleep schedule and routine.
- Don’t take stimulants like alcohol or caffeine before sleeping.
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleeping. Turn off the lights, use heavy curtains to block ambient light, adjust HVAC temperature to a comfortable level, and keep the room clean.
- Put away distractions such as phones, laptops, toys, and other gadgets.
- Try therapies such as yoga and tai-chi as they help improve sleep quality.


Having a good night’s sleep is paramount to having a clean bill of health. Unfortunately, there are people who find sleeping soundly a difficult challenge. If you are one of these people complaining from insomnia, you are not alone. There are millions of people suffering from sleeplessness all around the world.

Insomnia is annoying and frustrating, and it could threaten your health if not dealt accordingly. However, it is also a disorder that can be treated quite easily. A somnologist can recommend you the best and most effective treatments to relieve you of your problem.

With effective sleep aids coupled with excellent sleeping habits, you can drift to dreamland effortlessly in no time at all. Good night and sweet dreams!

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