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Mar 04

Sleeping Pill

Over the counter, often referred to as OTC, sleep aids and sleeping pills

The main ingredient of over the counter sleeping pills is an antihistamine. Antihistamines are generally taken for allergies, hay fever and common cold symptoms, in brand name medication such as Benadryl. However, histamine, a chemical messenger in the brain, promotes wakefulness, so antihistamine has the effect of making some patients feel sleepy. While the positive effects have not been substantiated through research, the side effects, such as drowsiness the following day, can be common and severe.

Common OTC sleep medications, with a link to Medline Plus drug information from NIH include,

Diphenhydramine is found in brand names like Nytol, Sominex, Sleepinal, Compoz

Doxylamine is found in brand names like Unisom, Nighttime Sleep Aid

Some other OTC sleep medications combine antihistamines with the pain reliever Acetaminophen, found in brand names like Tylenol PM and Aspirin Free Anacin PM. Others, such as NyQuil, combine antihistamines with alcohol.

OTC sleep aids are meant to be used for short term insomnia only. Sleep experts generally advise against the use of over the counter, OTC, sleep aids because of side effects, questions about their effectiveness, and lack of information about their safety over the long term.

Side effects of OTC sleep aids and medications
The antihistamines used in OTC sleep aids can produce common side effects, some of them severe. As with any medication, it is advisable to consult your doctor before taking over the counter sleep medication. This is especially important if you have glaucoma, trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland, or a breathing problem such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Talk to your doctor if you are currently taking an antidepressant such as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) or did so as recently as two weeks ago. Also check with your doctor first if you take any other drugs for depression or Parkinsons disease. Women who breast feed should avoid OTC sleep aids.

Common side effects of OTC sleep aids and sleeping pills

Moderate to severe drowsiness the next day
Dizziness and forgetfulness
Clumsiness, feeling off balance
Constipation and urinary retention
Blurred vision
Dry mouth and throat


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