The Best Over The Counter Sleep Aids
Choosing an over the counter sleep aid can be confusing with such a wide choice of strength and ingredients. The first decision to make is whether you would like one containing melatonin or an anti-histamine. You can also find herbal sleeping pills, but they are not as effective generally.
A basic rule of thumb is that anti-histamines tend to be the strongest; melatonin works best if your sleeping patterns have been disrupted, for example due to jet-lag or shift work. But really, nobody can predict which will suit you personally, so it may take some careful and controlled experimenting to find the right one.
To help you make your decision, we’ve investigated the most popular sleeping pills which are available without a prescription in many countries. This review of the best over the counter sleep aids covers the following 5 major brands:
- Kirkland Signature (anti-histamine)
- Unisom SleepGels (anti-histamine)
- Sominex (anti-histamine)
- Mel-O-Chew (melatonin)
- Source Naturals (melatonin)
Just because they are non-prescription doesn’t mean they they aren’t potent though. Some of these sleep aids are strong, so make sure you read the reviews carefully.
We also advise you to talk to a medical professional before taking any OTC sleep aids. Especially if you fall under any of the following categories:
- Are experiencing ill mental health.
- Have physical health conditions.
- Have emotional difficulties.
- If you are pregnant.
- If you are currently breast-feeding.
- Planning on giving the sleep aid to children.
- Are currently taking any other medication.
1. Kirkland Signature
We found that Kirkland Signature is the strongest and most effective over the counter sleep aid in the anti-histamine category. Furthermore it was the strongest overall in both categories.
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 long night, and have plenty of time to sleep and wake up in the morning.
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. Because it’s so strong, problems could arise as it takes the body longer to eliminate it than some other sedatives.
We don’t have an exact number of hours that it appears to stay 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 the front door, 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.
So if you plan on using an over counter sleeping pills for a couple of weeks, Kirkland is a better choice than the other anti-histamine based products. It is unlikely you will develop a physical dependency, or addiction, to this OTC sleep aid.
Finally, Kirkland sleeping tablets are very reasonably priced. You can find a box of 192 for just over $10, and with a dose of one tablet per night, they will last you a long time.
2. Unisom SleepGels
Unisom SleepGels contain the other most commonly found type of antihistamine -Diphenhydramine hydrochloride.
If you’ve tried Benadryl before, then you’ll find Unisom very similar as it also contains Diphenhydramine.
Unisom doesn’t pack the same punch as Kirkland in terms of strength of knock-out. But it is useful if you just need a little extra to help you sleep and don’t want to feel the effects throughout 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 you would need to be careful if you find yourself needing to take more than the recommended dose.
Unisom then might be the best over the counter sleep aid if you want to try an anti-histamine based product for the first time, but are concerned about taking something too strong.
Sominex also has the anti-histamine Diphenhydramine as its principle sedative ingredient.
It is very effective for most people, and around an hour after taking it, you should start to feel the sedative effects.
It is ideal if you just want a light sleep aid which doesn’t usually result in morning-after grogginess, but still does the job of helping you drift off into a peaceful slumber.
However, once again if you plan on being up and active 7-8 hours or less after taking it, you may still feel the sedative effect.
Sominex is also one of the cheapest over the counter sleep aids on the market, and a box of 72 tablets will last you a long time.
It does seem to be an all-or-nothing tablet; it works really well for some people, but for others not at all. It is well known though that not all sleep aids work for everyone. So you may need to try one or two different types before you find one that works well for you.
So if you like the idea of a light sleeping pill which is surprisingly effective, and is not expensive, then Sominex could be the most effective over the counter sleep aid for you.
If you are in the mood for shopping around until you find the best product, then we think it’s worth the risk that you’ll be one of the people it doesn’t work for. Because if it does work for you, then it is a well-balanced option in this category.
Mel-O-Chew is a chewable Melatonin sleep aid, melatonin being a natural hormone found in your body.
It helps to promote sleep because melatonin is one of the things which tell your internal body clock when it’s time to go to sleep, and when it’s time to wake up.
Mel-O-Chew is not as powerful as most prescription sleeping pills, and even some anti-histamine OTC sleep aids.
But it works in a completely different way, rather than simply knocking you out. And that way is promoted as being more natural than pharmaceutical pills or anti-histamines.
Melatonin has the additional bonus of being useful in combating jet-lag. It is also helpful for shift workers who have disrupted patterns. As with most sleep aids though, it is not to be used every day over the long-term.
Overall we think Mel-O-Chew is one of the best over the counter sleep aids available. Melatonin may not work for everyone, but if you are one of the lucky people that respond well to it, then the Mel-O-Chew formula will have you dozing off in no time.
5. Source Naturals
Source Naturals are another Melatonin based sleeping tablet, made by a company with a reputation for producing high quality supplements.
Melatonin is naturally occurring in the body, and so with this you are a long way from the chemicals found in prescription sleeping pills.
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 quite quickly.
As with most melatonin sleeping tablets, some people take a while to discover the dosage that works for them. But once you do, Source Naturals can definitely help you get some rest at night.
You do need to be aware of the potential for a groggy feeling the next day. You may also experience vivid dreams – something that seems unique to the source naturals formula.
So if you are looking for a fast-acting, melatonin based product, Source Naturals is a reliable and effective option.