Question: What can I take to help me sleep?

Answer: Insomnia is a common problem. It can affect all aspects of your life,  work, school, social life, and even your health.  People with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia can be caused by a number of reasons including:

  • Medical conditions ( e.g. depression, allergies, anxiety, chronic pain, migraines, and others)
  • Stress or a traumatic event
  • Difficult relationships
  • Major life changes
  • Caffeine and alcohol
  • Poor sleep habits

Before starting treatment with medicine, it is best to look for the cause of insomnia. Track your sleep times, caffeine and alcohol intake, and exercise schedule with a sleep diary. This may help to determine the cause of your insomnia.

Good sleep habits may help you sleep better and possibly avoid using medicines for sleep.

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule – even on weekends.
  • Avoid taking long naps during the day.
  • Get regular exercise – avoid exercising just before bedtime.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime. (Avoid feeling full or hungry at bedtime.)
  • Use your bed only for sleep or intimacy.
  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy.
  • Make your bedroom quiet and comfortable.
  • Try breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques.

If good sleep habits don’t help, over-the-counter (OTC) medications may. Always discuss the use of any medicine with your doctor and pharmacist. If you have glaucoma, heart arrhythmia, difficulty urinating, or asthma, talk to your doctor before taking OTC sleep aids.

Diphenhydramine (Sominex, Nytol) and doxylamine (Unisom) are antihistamines that are marketed as sleep aids. There are also products containing a combination of an antihistamine and pain reliever to be used if insomnia is associated with pain (Tylenol PM, Advil PM and others). All OTC sleep aids should be used only for short periods. Whether or not you take medicines to help you sleep, continue using good sleep habits. Chronic  insomnia should be evaluated by a physician.

Some prescription medicines used to relieve insomnia belong to a class of medicines called sedatives or sedative-hypnotics. These include:

  • Ambien (zolpidem)
  • Intermezzo (low-dose zolpidem)
  • Sonata (zaleplon)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)

Other medicines including benzodiazepines (Restoril, Dalmane, ProSom and others), Rozerem (ramelteon), a melatonin receptor agonist, and certain antidepressants are sometimes used for insomnia.

If your doctor prescribes a sleep medicine for you:

  • Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully. Take only the prescribed amount.
  • Never drive a car or operate machinery after taking a sleeping pill.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and other non-prescription medicines while taking sleep medicine.
  • Never share or borrow sleep medicines.
  • Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take.
Last Updated: November 24, 2013