When looking for an over the counter sleep aid, the first decision to take is which type you feel most comfortable with. Most fall into one of three main categories: melatonin, anti-histamines and herbal remedies.
Here’s a basic rule of thumb to understand the difference:
- Anti-histamines – usually have the strongest sedative effect.
- Melatonin – helps regulate disrupted sleep after situations like jet lag or shift work.
- Herbal pills – usually have a milder effect.
In this review, I’ll be looking at the best sleep aids I’ve found in each of the three categories. Some of them are quite strong even though you don’t need a prescription, so please ensure you read the reviews carefully.
You can see the sleep aids I’ll be discussing in this review in the table below. It should give you an idea of the range of ingredients you can find and how strong they are.
|Brand||Type||Key points||Buy from|
herbs + others
|Luna||Melatonin, Gaba, |
herbs + others
1. Kirkland Signature
Strongest sleep aid overall
Active ingredients: Doxylamine succinate 25 mg
In the anti-histamine category, Kirkland Signature is one of the most powerful and effective over the counter sleep aids you’ll find. And for me, it was the strongest overall of all the different sleep aids I tried.
The active ingredient is Doxylamine Succinate, which is an anti-histamine known to have a strong sedative effect. So you’re likely to feel very physically and mentally drowsy after taking it, which is of course what you’d hope for.
I think it’s ideal if you’re planning on having a long night’s sleep. It might not be the right choice, however, if you need to go to bed late and then get up at the crack of dawn.
There’s no official statement on the exact number of hours that it stays in the body, and it will depend on various factors such as your size, metabolism and age.
So to be on the safe side, it’s probably best to keep in mind that if you have to get up less than 8 hours after taking it and rush out of the house to work, you may 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, Doxylamine doesn’t cause problems with addiction like many prescription sleeping pills do. And you won’t find you need to increase the dosage night after night.
So if you need an over the counter sleeping pill to help you overcome a period of bad sleep, this is an effective option.Buy from Amazon
2. Source Naturals
Fast-acting sublingual melatonin
Active ingredient: melatonin 2.5 mg
Source Naturals is a pure melatonin sleep aid, made by a company with a reputation for producing high quality supplements.
Nowadays, many manufactures like to add other ingredients to their sleep aid, but this one is just a straight forward melatonin with a reasonable dose of 2.5 mg.
It’s useful that they are sublingual, dissolving quickly under your tongue and avoiding the need to swallow any pills. That also means they’re absorbed into the bloodstream faster than normal pills, and so take action very quickly.
That’s ideal if you arrive home shortly before your bedtime, or sometimes forget to take medication in advance of the time you need it to work.
As with most melatonin products they work best in specific situations, such as jet lag, shift workers struggling to sleep, and insomnia for some people. So if you do fall into one of those categories, they should help you get some rest at night.
If you’re looking for a fast-acting melatonin sleep aid, Source Naturals is a reliable and effective over the counter option, especially if you find it difficult to swallow solid pills.Buy from Amazon
3. Zenwise Labs Sleep Support
Strong combination of melatonin and other relaxation inducing ingredients
Active ingredients: magnesium 80 mg, melatonin 6mg, L-Taurine 200 mg, L-Theanine 200 mg, l-Ornithine 5 mg, Chamomile powder 150mg, Valerian powder 150 mg, 5-HTP 100 mg, and GABA 100 mg.
The Zenwise Labs sleep aid is one of the more interesting, and stronger, over the counter sleep aids I’ve tried. It has a wide range of ingredients, and I guess the hope is that at least one or more of them do the trick for you.
All of the ingredients are thought to help with either relaxation or sleep one way or another – assuming the body and brain can actually use them in the supplement form.
I did find it helped me fall asleep quicker and stay asleep during the night, with no after effects in the morning. So in my experience it worked well. However, there are a couple of points I feel are important to consider before taking it.
Firstly, 6 mg of melatonin seems a little high to me. 3 mg is the standard melatonin dose found in sleep aids, and even that’s arguably more than really necessary. So I’m not sure why they decided 6 mg would be an appropriate amount.
Secondly, the range of ingredients seems a little over the top, with the potential to be a little too strong for some people. My advice would be to try a half dose to start with. If you only feel a light sedation, you can always try the full dose the next time.Buy from Amazon
4. Vitafusion SleepWell
Melatonin and natural herbs gummies
Active ingredients: melatonin 3 mg, passion flower extract 4.25 mg, chamomile flower extract 4.25 mg, lemon balm extract 4 mg.
Vitafusion is a well-respected brand of supplements and they’ve created an interesting concoction of natural ingredients with the SleepWell tablet.
Again containing Melatonin, this would usually mean they only work for the same sleep problems as the other melatonin sleeping pills in the review.
However, the inclusion of passion flower, chamomile and lemon balm means there’s a possibility it could help with other sleep problems such as insomnia.
In previous articles I’ve talked about how there isn’t much evidence that herbal remedies actually work. But despite the lack of hard evidence, popular opinion is that they can be more effective than research suggests.
I find that the Sleepwell tablets do in fact help, especially when I’ve had some disruption to my sleep pattern when flying long distance. And at times when I’ve had general problems sleeping I’ve had some success with them, though usually only felt a light effect.
So it probably boils down to a willingness to try them out yourself and see what happens. With the combination of melatonin and herbs it’s difficult to guess whether they’ll actually help you or not.
But if you do like herbal remedies and are interested in trying melatonin, this could be one of the best over the counter sleep aids to try.Buy from Amazon
5. Unisom SleepGels
Active ingredients: Diphenhydramine hydrochloride 50 mg
Unisom Sleepgels contain the other type of anti-histamine typically found in sleeping pills – Diphenhydramine hydrochloride.
There are 3 main versions available – SleepGels, SleepTabs and QuickMelts. The main difference is in whether the 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 its strength of knock-out. But it’s useful if you just need a little help to sleep and don’t want to feel the effects into the next day.
As with most sedatives though, you may feel a little groggy first thing in the morning, depending on how sensitively you react to them.
It’s possible to build a tolerance to this type of anti-histamine compared to the Kirkland sleep aid. So if you find yourself feeling the need to increase the dosage above the recommended level, it’s a sign you should 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.Buy from Amazon
Vegan sleep aid with wide range of ingredients
Active ingredients: melatonin 6 mg, magnesium 10 mg, L-Theanine 200 mg, valerian powder 150 mg, chamomile extract 150 mg, passion flower extract 100 mg, lemon balm extract 100 mg, hops extract 100 mg, GABA 100 mg.
Like the Zenwise labs sleep aid, Luna also has a somewhat confusing range of ingredients. It’s marketed as being vegan and all-natural, and interestingly contains some of the classic ingredients found in bedtime teas.
As with most herbal sleep aids, I didn’t find it knocked me out. Instead, the effect was more subtle, with a feeling of relaxation about 30 minutes after taking it.
I tried it one night when I was feeling wide awake, but don’t think it helped much to be honest. On other nights when I was already a little tired, I did feel that it helped me get off to sleep quite quickly, and also stay asleep. Importantly, I noticed no side effects from taking it, and no grogginess the next morning.
I think if it’s important to you to avoid animal products and/or you prefer herbal remedies to stronger sleep aids, Luna might suit you. I know it’s quite a popular sleep aid in the US, with many people saying it works well.
I also like the fact that they offer a no questions asked money back guarantee. So unlike most other sleep aids, you can get a refund if it doesn’t work for you.Buy from Amazon
7. Berry Sleep
Melatonin sleep aid made from natural ingredients
Active ingredients: tart cherry extract, passion fruit extract, goji berry extract.
Berry Sleep is a non-addictive melatonin sleep aid which doesn’t leave you feeling groggy the next day. It’s one to consider if you’re not keen on taking strong anti-histamines or pharmaceutical pills.
Melatonin in itself isn’t as powerful as most prescription or anti-histamine sleep aids. However, it works in a different way and can be very effective for particular sleep problems.
Rather than simply knocking you out, it boosts the hormone you already have in your body which helps maintain a regular sleep pattern. For that reason it’s promoted as being more natural than most prescription sleeping pills or anti-histamines.
What makes Sleep Berry interesting is that the melatonin is extracted from fruits rather than synthetically made: tart cherry, passion fruit and goji berry.
I found the effects were very subtle, to the point where I wasn’t sure if it was more of a placebo effect at work. On the plus side, I felt no next day grogginess or other side effects, so it seems like a sleep aid I could take more than once without any issues.
Overall, I think if you’re interested in trying a melatonin sleep aid, Sleep Berry is one to try if you’d prefer to stick to natural plant and berry extract ingredients.Buy from Amazon