Are you tired of counting sheep until the sun rises? Are you wondering if a sleep aid could work for you?
If you’re having a trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you’re not alone…according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, around 30% of Americans suffer from insomnia and many more struggle with occasional sleeplessness.
Improving your sleep quality if you’re struggling is critical to your well being, and while popping a pill to help you hit the hay may sound like an easy fix, many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can have negative side effects. We’ve reviewed the 4 highest rated sleep aids to help you make an informed decision the next time you need to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Editor's ChoiceSleep Fairy
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Vegan CapsulesLuna by Nested Naturals
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Great PriceDRIFTOFF by Zhou Nutrition
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Melatonin GummyOlly Sleep
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4 Top Rated Sleep Aid Supplement Reviews
Sleep Fairy – Editor's Choice
- Serving size: 2 capsules
- Melatonin: 5mg
- Includes: L-Theanine and GABA
- Formulated with a blend of herbs including chamomile, valerian root, and magnolia bark extract
Sleep Fairy is a natural, non-habit-forming sleep aid from Hollis Nutrition. Unlike traditional sleeping pills that may contain more manufactured ingredients, this product is made with natural herbs that include chamomile, valerian root, and magnolia bark extract, making it a safer and more organic option for those who need help falling asleep.
Additionally, this product is 100 percent non-GMO, stearate-free, and vegan, so you should feel confident knowing you are taking a sleep remedy that also incorporates a natural, health-focused preparation process.
Sleep Fairy could be considered a one-two-punch of top natural remedies. Chamomile, magnesium, and melatonin are three additives sought after individually, but Hollis Nutrition offers consumers all three in one product. The addition of GABA, Valerian Root, and L-Theanine mean that this aid should be especially good for those who need a product designed to help them relax better before bedtime.
Luna by Nested Naturals – Vegan Capsules
- Serving size: 2 capsules
- Melatonin: 6mg
- Includes: L-Theanine and GABA
- Formulated with a blend of herbs including: Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Passionflower, Hops and Valerian Root.
LUNA is a gentle nighttime sleep aid by Nested Naturals that contains a harmonious blend of naturally sourced ingredients including herbs, amino acids, and melatonin. This formula contains extracts of valerian, chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, and hops along with the amino acid L-Theanine and the neurotransmitter GABA. A single capsule contains 3 mg of Melatonin to encourage an easy, improved sleep quality without morning grogginess.
These naturally crafted ingredients were sourced and selected for premium quality and are included to promote normal relaxation and to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. If you’re experiencing jet lag or a bout of insomnia, LUMA may be able to help you fall asleep easier and get your sleep cycle back on track.
This supplement is vegan, cruelty-free, non-GMO, free from all major allergens, and has undergone third-party testing. This formula by Nested Naturals was created based on peer-reviewed scientific research and using socially conscious sourcing. This product was designed to improve your sleep quality and happiness, helping you to catch some much needed shut eye and wake up feeling refreshed the next morning.
DRIFTOFF by Zhou Nutrition – Great Price
- Serving size: 2 capsules
- Melatonin: 2mg
- Formulated with: Valerian, GABA, L-Tryptophan, Chamomile, Passionflower, Lemon balm and Hops
Driftoff is an all-natural herbal supplement complex designed to help adults ease restlessness, calm anxiety, and wake up feeling refreshed. Made with non-habit forming ingredients created to promote peaceful rest and relaxation, Driftoff offers outstanding quality at a great price. For a fraction of the cost of similar sleep aids, this premium supplement was crafted by sleep experts, combining science with ancient wisdom.
The team at Zhou Nutrition created this formula based on eastern herbal tradition and modern research for a superior, synergistic blend. Each 2 capsule serving contains 2 mg of melatonin along with valerian root, GABA, tryptophan, and extracts of chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, and hops. This vegetarian product is free from all major allergens, preservatives, and genetically modified ingredients.
This supplement was made in an FDA certified facility that follows good manufacturing practices (GMP) and uses only the highest-quality ingredients. This expert-formulated product should help you regulate your sleep-wake cycle and wake up feeling ready to face the day without the hangover effect of many similar aids. If you need a good night’s rest that you can count on, Driftoff is a cost-effective option worth considering.
Olly Sleep – Melatonin Gummy
- Serving size: 2 gummies
- Melatonin: 3mg
- Formulated with: L-Theanine, Chamomile, Passionflower, Lemon balm
Swallowing a big pill can be boring and may make you less likely to remember to take your sleep aids. Why should yummy vitamins be just for kids? Now, grown-ups can have a little fun too with these delicious melatonin gummies by Olly.
These naturally tasty blackberry gummies have just a hint of mint for freshness. Melatonin is paired with L-theanine, passionflower, chamomile, and lemon balm to promote sweet dreams and blissful rest. Two of these gummies contain just 15 calories and 2 grams of sugar, colored using carrot and blueberry juices.
This product was designed to calm your mind and promote rest and relaxation using carefully crafted ingredients from nature. Olly has made directions easy to follow so you can fall asleep easier by taking 2 gummies, 30 minutes before bedtime.
Olly’s mission is to provide good health without compromise, making nutrition easier to understand. They’ve designed nutritional sleep aids to be “just as effective as they are fun.”
Buyer's Guide for OTC Sleep Aids That Work
If you walk into any health food store or pharmacy, you will likely be met with a wide array of sleep aids. Sorting through the fancy labels and health claims can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when they all say they are the best. Let’s break down the various types of sleep aids for a better understanding of what’s available.
Understanding the Types
Sleep aids can be in the form of prescription pills, over the counter sleep aids, or natural sleep aids. Each option has pros and cons and there isn’t one right solution for everyone.
- Over the Counter Sleep Aids: Most OTC sleep aids contain antihistamines, which are used in common allergy medicines to reduce congestion and other allergy symptoms. One of the side effects of antihistamines is drowsiness, so these pills are sometimes used for treating bouts of sleeplessness too. Unfortunately, some of the forms of antihistamines can build-up tolerance, so they are not recommended for long term use.
- Non-Prescription Natural Sleep Aids: For a natural solution that doesn’t require a prescription, there are many options available. Most feature either single herbs or amino acids that are known to promote sleep, and many are blends of herbs, botanicals, amino acids, and the hormone melatonin. These often generate fewer side effects.
- Prescription Sleep Aids: In some cases, your doctor may decide to prescribe a drug for treating chronic insomnia or other sleep disorders. Hypnotics and benzodiazepines are two of the most commonly prescribed sleep aids, and both can cause side effects and dependency over time.
Need more info? Check out our complete guide for natural sleep remedies.
Common Sleep Aid Options
The two most common classes of OTC sleep aids are antihistamines like Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine Succinate, and natural solutions that usually feature melatonin supplements and/or valerian. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the body, and valerian root is a plant.
One of the biggest benefits of OTC sleep aids is that you don’t require a time-consuming and sometimes costly trip to the doctor’s office for a prescription. Instead, you can simply walk into a health food store or pharmacy and find a sleep aid that may solve your problem without the hassle of an appointment.
Both OTC sleep aids and natural sleep aids can cause mental and physical dependence, making it difficult to go without them. They can also become less effective over time and require bigger and bigger doses. In some cases, they may stop working altogether and you could be forced to find a new solution.
Diphenhydramine is a sleep aid that is used to reduce the build-up of histamines during allergy season that is commonly known for causing itchy, swollen eyes, congestion, and a drippy nose.
Antihistamines can block the receptors that are responsible for these symptoms but have one major side effect that stops many people from using them during the day – fatigue! For this reason, people have started using antihistamines to help them fall asleep at night, though there is speculation about whether they improve sleep quality.
While Diphenhydramine can cause sedation, some of its other side effects include daytime drowsiness, constipation, urinary retention, dry mouth, and blurred vision.
Doxylamine Succinate is another antihistamine, but it is stronger than Diphenhydramine and tends to be the more expensive choice. Some people find it to be more effective because it leaves the body more slowly, allowing you to sleep longer.
Unfortunately, staying in your system longer does mean that Doxylamine Succinate is more likely to cause grogginess and a feeling of being hungover the following day. Sometimes daytime drowsiness can be just as bad as fatigue caused by insomnia leaving people to question whether the pill-induced sleep was worth it.
Tolerance doesn’t build-up as quickly with this sleep aid, so people can generally take it for longer periods of time with the same effect.
Valerian root is an herbal supplement that comes from a plant that has been used for its medicinal properties since the ancient days of Greece and Rome. This plant is commonly used as a remedy for anxiety, poor sleep quality, and stress.
Valerian root can be found as a sleep tea, liquid, or in capsules, either alone or combined with other botanicals and herbs.
While some studies have shown improvement using valerian root to treat insomnia, others have shown little effect. Not enough research has been done to confirm its effect, but years of anecdotal evidence has increased valerian root's popularity as a remedy for regulating sleep cycles and promoting better sleep quality.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally, but there are many reasons why your body might make less than what’s needed for good sleep quality. Travel across time zones, changes in your daily schedule, rising age, and the use of artificial light or electronic screens in the evening can all impact your body’s internal clock and impair your body’s production of melatonin.
As a sleep aid, research has found melatonin supplements to be effective in reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and preventing the effects of jet lag. Typical doses are found to be within an effective range from 1-3 mg. Known side effects include headaches and daytime drowsiness, but potentially improved sleep quality.
Check Out Our Guide: Best Melatonin Supplements
Safety and Side Effects of Sleep Aids
When to Consider Sleep Aids
As many as 9 million Americans use prescription sleep aids according to a National Health and Nutrition Survey conducted by the CDC. While these prescriptions can improve sleep quality and symptoms in those suffering from insomnia and other sleep disorders, in some cases they may be unnecessary.
There are many lifestyle changes people can try before turning to OTC sleep aids and prescription options. Exercising, practicing good sleep hygiene, avoiding nicotine and alcohol, and limiting caffeine can all help regulate the circadian rhythm and prevent insomnia.
In cases where lifestyle adjustments are not working or when insomnia or another sleep disorder is severe, it may be time to consider using sleep aids to improve sleep quality. It is best to avoid the use of long-term prescriptions that can cause dependency over time and may make insomnia worse. Instead, using a temporary solution can help to get things back on track so you can re-establish a normal rhythm and stop medication altogether.
If you are experiencing a short-term bout of sleeplessness as a result of jet lag, emotional upset, or illness (such as a cold or flu), an OTC sleep aid or natural sleep aid may be able to help you fall asleep faster and get back to your normal patterns. In this case, you could use it temporarily for a couple of nights and then try going without.
However, older adults and those with underlying conditions may want to consider long term use of natural supplements that are less likely to counteract other medications they may be on. If you are suffering from chronic insomnia, shift work sleep disorder, or other symptoms that are preventing you from getting the rest you need, it would be best to speak with your physician about what may be causing your symptoms and the treatment options available.
Want to learn more? Take a look at our insomnia statistics and facts here.
When to Avoid Sleep Aids
There are some circumstances when you should not use prescription or over the counter sleep aids as they could pose a risk to certain groups of people. In these instances, you should consider lifestyle changes or speak to your doctor about alternative options that may help you get better sleep.
- Pregnant or Breastfeeding: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make sleeplessness worse in many women, even though adequate rest is important for a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, many medications are not safe for use while pregnant or breastfeeding as they could cross the placenta or be transmitted into breast milk and pose harm to the baby. If you have questions about a specific medication, it's a good idea to seek out medical advice from a doctor.
- While on a Pain Reliever, Other Medicine, Drugs or Alcohol: Many prescriptions and over the counter medications can interact with sleep aids, so it is always important to speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you are currently taking any other medicines. Certain drugs and alcohol can increase the sedative effects of medication and should be avoided during this time.
- Treating a Sickness: If you are currently being treated for illness using a prescription or other over the counter medication to manage your symptoms, it could negatively interact with sleep aids. Since many cold and flu medications contain antihistamines, you could end up taking too much and experience negative side effects.
- As a Child: Children are physiologically different from adults, and even many natural sleep aids may not be safe for them. If your child is struggling with sleep, it is best to speak to their pediatrician and start with lifestyle solutions like maintaining a consistent bedtime routine and using things like a white noise machine and room darkening blinds.
What Are The Side Effects?
Just like other medications, sleep aids can cause side effects, even when used on a short-term basis. OTC sleep aids do generally have fewer side effects than prescription options, but every person responds to medications differently. Some of the possible side effects to watch for include:
- Loss of Balance
- Dry eyes or blurred vision
- Dry nose, mouth, or throat
- Urinary retention
- Moderate to severe daytime drowsiness or fatigue
Are They Habit Forming?
Many prescriptions for insomnia can be addictive in the long-term. When used properly and for short-term use, OTC sleep aids are designed to be non addictive. Unfortunately, many people do not use these medications as directed, increasing the likelihood of dependency.
Are The Sleep Aids Safe?
OTC sleep medications for insomnia are considered safe for short-term use when used properly as labeled on the packaging. If you are already using prescription or OTC medications, there could be interactions that you should ask your doctor or pharmacist about before starting any additional medicines.
Sleep aids are designed to be used temporarily to help with occasional symptoms, such as jet lag, but should not be used long-term. The risk for dependency and other adverse effects increases with extended use.
These sleep aids are not safe for use in pregnancy, when breastfeeding, for children, or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They should also not be combined with other medications.
While OTC sleep medicines may cause side effects, most are temporary and should go away as soon as you stop taking the drug.
Can Extended Use Cause Sleep Problems?
OTC sleep aids are designed to be a temporary solution and are not purposed for long-term use. Using them for extended periods could cause either physical or psychological dependence where you may be unable to fall asleep without them. The likelihood of tolerance and dependency increases the longer you are using the medicine.
What to Do If You're Thinking about Over the Counter Sleep Aids
Talk to Your Physician
If you are thinking about using an OTC solution, speak to your physician first to determine if there are lifestyle changes that you may be able to try. Your doctor can also help you decide which sleep medicine to use and whether it could interact with any other medications you are taking. It's especially important to seek out medical advice if you have any underlying conditions or risk factors.
Make Sure You've Tried Behavioral Solutions
Medication should only be a last case resort after you have tried lifestyle and behavioral solutions to manage your symptoms. Implementing a bedtime routine, going to bed at the same time every night, exercise, reducing caffeine, and managing stress are all examples of changes that may improve sleep.
Only Take the Recommended Dosage
It can be tempting to increase the dose if you are not noticing improvement or are looking for a “quick fix.” If you have been using an over the counter sleep aid for an extended period of time and the pill is no longer working for you, do not attempt to go beyond the recommended dose. Using a larger dose than what is listed could be dangerous and result in serious harm.
Drinking alcohol is not recommended while you are taking a sleep aid since alcohol can increase the sedative effect of these medications.
Steps to Try Before Turning to Pills
Before turning to pills, it is always wise to try lifestyle and behavioral changes that could improve sleep naturally. Many habit changes could even improve sleep without needing a prescription or over the counter sleep aid. It is important to be patient and consistent when making these changes since it can take time for your body to adapt and sleep to improve.
Get on a Routine Schedule
Every human body has a built-in internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. This clock regulates our sleep patterns and controls the release of certain hormones that affect things like hunger, temperature, and emotions. Many things can disrupt these patterns, including going to bed at different times every day.
One of the easiest ways to reset this internal clock is to get on a routine schedule of going to bed and waking at approximately the same time each day.
Find Out More: 9 Simple Bedtime Rituals
Avoid Screens An Hour Before Bedtime
Part of what regulates our circadian rhythm and controls the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, is exposure to light. Watching TV or using electronic devices like tablets, computers, and phones before bed expose your eyes to artificial blue light, causing sleep issues.
Get More Info: Technology & Sleep
Blue light exposure has been shown to disrupt the release of melatonin, impacting the ability to fall and stay asleep. Avoiding screens an hour before bedtime can be a good solution, but if you must use electronic devices during this time, you can use a special form of sunglasses that reduce blue light exposure or install a blue light filter on your screen.
Want more info? View our complete guide for blue light blocking glasses.
Make the Bedroom Conducive to Sleep
The best environment for sleep is a cool, comfy space. Installing room blackout curtains or blinds can filter out unwanted light that could interrupt sleep. A white noise machine is another good idea for blocking out sounds that could wake you during the night.
Don't Work and Sleep in Bed
While it may be tempting to finish up some last-minute changes to a work assignment or check your email in bed, this can have a negative impact on rest. It is best to keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only, so your brain knows that when you are in bed, it is time for rest.
Cut Out Late-Night Overindulgences
Changing your eating habits may have more of an impact on sleep issues than you think. Drinking or eating late in the evening can cause a sudden surge in blood sugar that could temporarily increase alertness. This spike in glucose is typically followed by the release of insulin, causing your blood sugar to crash later in the night. Drinking large amounts of fluid before bed can also cause you to wake to urinate.
Complete Daily Workouts or Meditation
Some studies have found that completing a daily workout may help to reduce the symptoms of insomnia by increasing the amount of deep, restorative sleep a person gets. Working out can increase energy and alertness, so it is better to do your workout earlier in the day and avoid strenuous activities closer to bedtime.
Stress can also impact sleep negatively, so engaging in activities that are calming such as yoga, relaxation techniques, and meditation, can all be helpful too.
Read More: Timing Your Sleep and Exercise
In some cases, insomnia may result from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Even in the absence of a mental health condition, therapy can improve sleep either through establishing healthy habits or using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Learn More: The Impact of Sleep on Mental Health
Frequently Asked Questions about Sleep Aids
Can pregnant women take them?
Many medications are not safe for use in pregnancy since they can cross the placenta and cause harm to the baby. While sleep issues during pregnancy can be challenging, the best treatment during this time may be a lifestyle change. If you are pregnant and experiencing insomnia, speak with your physician about the best options for you.
If you’ve been tossing and turning, staring at the clock night after night, you may be desperate for a good night’s sleep. Insomnia can be debilitating, leaving you frustrated, hopeless, and tired.
Sleep aids may be a temporary solution for common sleep issues, but if your insomnia is ongoing, you should speak with your doctor to determine the underlying cause and to find appropriate treatment options.
Lifestyle changes are the best place to start for sleepless nights, but if you find yourself in the sleep aid aisle, wondering which option to choose – we’ve got you covered. From over the counter allergy medicines to natural sleep aids, this review should help you find the perfect solution for you.
Sources and References:
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.