When choosing an over the counter sleeping pill, the first decision is whether to take one containing melatonin, an anti-histamine or a herbal remedy.
A basic rule of thumb to tell the difference is as follows:
- Anti-histamines – generally have the strongest sedative effect.
- Melatonin – helps regulate sleep after disruption due to events like jet-lag or shift work.
- Herbal pills – usually have the lightest effect.
In this review you’ll find out about the best over the counter sleep aids in the Melatonin and anti-histamine category, and a popular one which combines melatonin and herbal ingredients.
Some of these sleeping pills are strong even though they are non-prescription, so please ensure you read the reviews carefully. And it’s a good idea to discuss taking them with your doctor first if you fall under any of the following categories:
- Are experiencing ill mental health.
- Have any physical health condition.
- Have emotional difficulties.
- Are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- Planning on giving the sleep aid to children.
- Are taking any other medication.
1) Anti-histamine based sleeping pills
Strongest sedative effect overall
In the anti-histamine category Kirkland Signature is one of the strongest and most effective over the counter sleep aids you can find. Furthermore, it’s probably the strongest overall in any category.
The active ingredient is Doxylamine. This is one of the most powerfully sedating anti-histamines, and you are likely to feel very drowsy (physically and mentally) after taking a Kirkland sleeping tablet.
This is great if you plan on having a good long night’s sleep. It may not be ideal, however, if you only sleep for a shorter period of time, and don’t want a sleeping pill hangover when you get up.
There’s no official statement of the exact number of hours that it stays in the body, as everyone is different. The basic rule of thumb though is that if you plan on getting up around 8 hours or less after taking it and rushing out of the house, you’ll probably still feel a bit drowsy.
But if you have time on your hands to get a good night’s sleep and wake up slowly, then the Kirkland sleep aid could suit you well.
In terms of safety, people don’t usually develop a tolerance to Doxylamine as quickly as some other anti-histamines. And it’s not known to cause the same kind of problems with addiction as many prescription sleeping pills do.
So if you’re planning on using an over the counter sleeping pill for a couple of weeks, Kirkland is a good choice.
There are 3 main versions available – SleepGels, SleepTabs and QuickMelts. The difference being in whether each tablet contains 25mg or 50mg, and how quickly it’s absorbed by the body.
Unisom doesn’t pack the same punch as Kirkland in terms of strength of knock-out. But it’s useful if you just need a little extra to help you sleep and don’t want to feel the effects into the next day.
Although as with all sedatives, you may feel a little groggy first thing in the morning depending on how sensitively you react to them.
It is possible to build a tolerance quicker than with the Kirkland sleep aid. So if you find yourself feeling the need to increase the dosage above the recommended level, then it’s a sign you should speak to your doctor or stop taking them.
Overall, Unisom is perhaps the best over the counter sleep aid if you want to try an anti-histamine for the first time, but would prefer a lighter introduction to them.
2) Melatonin based sleeping pills
Good to re-set the body clock
Mel-O-Chew is a popular chewable Melatonin sleep aid. Melatonin is a hormone found in your body which has the job of telling your internal body clock when it’s time to go to sleep, and when it’s time to wake up. The idea then is that this synthetic version can boost the amount you naturally have in the body.
Mel-O-Chew is not as powerful as most prescription sleeping pills, or even the anti-histamine sleep aids in general.
But it works in a completely different way: rather than simply knocking you out it helps regulate a normal sleeping time. And that way it’s promoted as being more natural than pharmaceutical pills or anti-histamines.
The thing is though, Melatonin is only thought to be useful in certain circumstances. There is scientific evidence that it helps with jet-lag, shift work, delayed sleep phase syndrome and possible insomnia for older people. But there is little evidence that it will help anyone with insomnia, though some people still swear by it.
If you’re in the category of people who melatonin will help though, then Mel-O-Chew is one of the best otc sleep aids available.
Fast acting melatonin
The Source Naturals pills are sub-lingual which means they dissolve under the tongue. They are therefore absorbed into the bloodstream faster than normal pills and so take action very quickly.
As with all melatonin sleeping tablets, they will only work for certain sleep conditions (see the Mel-O-Chew explanation above). But if you do fall under one of those categories, Source Naturals should help you get some rest at night.
So if you’re looking for a fast-acting melatonin based product, Source Naturals is a reliable and effective option.
3) Herbal & Melatonin combined
Popular natural ingredients combination
Again containing Melatonin, this would usually mean they would only work for the same sleep problems as the two other melatonin pills in the review.
However, the inclusion of Passion Flower, Chamomile and Lemon Balm means it’s not so easy to ignore the possibility of it helping other sleep problems such as insomnia.
Here at No Sleepless Nights I often talk about how there isn’t much evidence that herbal remedies actually work. But despite the lack of hard evidence, people still say they work.
So it probably boils down to a willingness to try them out and see what happens. With the mix of melatonin and herbs it’s impossible to guess whether they will actually help you or not.
But they are proving very popular – scoring nearly 5 stars on amazon for example, which is very rare for a sleeping pill. And with their easy-to-chew gummy nature, they are one of the best over the counter sleeping pills when it comes to how easy they are to take, and the fact that they contain all-natural ingredients.