Everything You Need To Know About Over The Counter Sleeping Pills.

June 24, 2021
8 min read

Firstly, let us understand the term OTC; it means over-the-counter medications. Medications available at your local pharmacy store, could be taken without any prescription. However, it is important to use it ethically, to witness its effectiveness and safety.


The best way to achieve them is by following the proper direction provided on the label and by your health care professionals. Further, we are going to provide general information about OTC sleeping pills and how they can be appropriately consumed with or without a doctor’s consult.

What causes insomnia?

Let us study the active ingredients that are present in sleeping pills. All products or tablets available over the counter contain the main active ingredient: sedative antihistamines. Diphenhydramine and promethazine are the two sedative histamines that are used in the formulation of sleeping pills. 

The first-generation antihistamines contain these two sedatives, which have main side effects like drowsiness and sedation. It happens because the ability of these drugs to cross the blood-brain barrier is high as it stops harmful toxins, drugs, and pathogens from reaching the brain.  

The second generation of antihistamines contains cetirizine and loratadine; it can be easily purchased over the counter for the treatment of allergies that cross the BBB in smaller amounts. 

Compared to first-generation, this has an infrequent side effect like dizziness and is classified as non-drowsy antihistamines.

Are Over The Counter sleeping pills addictive?

Although over-the-counter pills have lesser potential for addiction than any other substances or medications. But, it could lead to severe health issues, including kidney failure, memory loss, heart problems, and even death if used abruptly.

In addition, it is seen that OTC drugs can lead any individual towards addiction.  Cough medicine (Dextromethorphan) is considered to be the most commonly abused OTC medication. People think prescription drugs and OTC drugs are very safe to use, but that works only when taken in the exact amount as prescribed and for a required interval of time.

Who should not be given over-the-counter sleeping pills?

Every medicine has benefits, side effects and warnings, if any drug when not taken as directed, may hurt your internal organs. Same goes for sleeping pills. However, there are specific group of people who should not take over the counter sleeping pills as it may worsen the current health medication.

  • Patients who consume monoamine oxidase inhibitors or just stopped taking MOI in the last 14 days.
  • The patients must see details for each specific drug or product outside of the licensed age group. 

There are many cautions on the use, which can relate to several conditions, like narrow-angle glaucoma, epilepsy, asthma, or drugs like tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline. 

For more knowledge, we suggest you read the complete product information carefully to avoid any problem or speak to the chemist before use.

Precautions to take when using sleep aids.

Precautions must be taken to stay safe and avoid any harmful act that can caused by consuming any pill. One must take the following precautions while using any sleep aids:

  • If you are on any different medications or have any medical issues, one must discuss with the doctor about taking any sleep aid.
  • Please do not use it for a longer duration, like more than two weeks. If you still have problems after 10 to 15 days with sleep, you must take a medical professional’s advice.
  • Taking mild sleep aids can also have side effects, so consult a doctor if you have any new symptoms.
  • Avoid activities like driving or any task that requires alertness when you take a sleep aid. 
  • Taking this medicine with alcohol or other substances could cause you drowsiness; we suggest avoiding such things.
  • If you’re under 18 years old, pregnant, lactating, or above 75 years of age, always consult a medical professional before taking any sleep aid. 
  • Do not increase the dosage of sleep aids or take more in the night; if you might see, these are working less effectively as time passes. We suggest looking for a more natural way to fall asleep.

Best over-the-counter sleeping aids.

The pills are categorized on the basis of their usage and positive effects. By research and experiments, the following medicines are considered as best OTC sleeping aids.


Nytol is known as the most famous brand of OTC sleeping aids. It contains active ingredients like diphenhydramine hydrochloride; the medicine is available only from pharmacies. This sleep aid is available in two forms:

  1. Nytol One a night- each tablet contains 50mg of diphenhydramine hydrochloride 
  2. Nytol Original- each tablet contains 25mg of diphenhydramine hydrochloride

Side effects of Nytol

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Stomach upset
  • Dry mouth

Nytol Warnings

  • Do not give Nytol to a new born baby or a premature baby.
  • Do not use this medicine to make a child sleepy.


It contains active ingredients like melatonin and is a sleep aid when it is very effective for insomnia. It will not knock you out in minutes. Instead, it will make you feel sleepy after a specific time. Some might see mild side effects, and some might see no side effects; it depends upon person to person. 

Side effects of Natrol

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling anxious
  • Headaches

Natrol Warnings

  • Do not use this medicine if you’re already using any anti-depressant drug.
  • If you have used a MAO inhibitor in last 14 days then do not take Natrol that might produce a dangerous drug.

Vitafusion sleep well

We have seen an increased number of over-the-counter sleep aids with a combination of herbal ingredients and melatonin from the research. Vitafusion sleep well comes in various versions, so always check the label before purchasing it to be sure you get what you want. 

Side effects of Vitafusion sleep well

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • dizziness

Vitafusion sleep well Warnings

  • Taking too much of this medicine may lead to severe heart problem, coma or even death.

Sominex sleeping tablets

It is a pharmacy-only medication that is used temporarily as a sleeping aid. Each tablet of this sleeping aid contains 20mg of promethazine hydrochloride.

Patients who are allergic to promethazine and having a central nervous system depression must avoid Sominex sleeping tablets.

Side effects of Sominex sleeping tablets

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Stomach upset
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry throat/nose

Sominex sleeping tablets Warnings

  • Excess intake of Sominex may lead to serious heart problems and person can go to coma.

Alteril sleep aid

It is a famous sleep aid, which is available widely in the United States. Alteril sleep aid contains 3mg melatonin, valerian, chamomile, and L-Tryptophan packed in yellow soft gels. It is pretty effective and worked very well for many users with no side effects other than feeling drowsy.  

Side effects of Alteril sleep aid

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea

Alteril sleep aid Warnings

  • Do not give this medicine to the children younger than 12 years old.

Can you get Melatonin Over the Counter in the USA?

Melatonin is considered to be the most approved sleeping aid in the United States that is available without any prescription. It is a hormone, which is produced in the brain at night, from the research it is concluded that melatonin can help to improve insomnia with lesser side effects.

In the United States, melatonin is sold over the counter in drug stores and health food stores. It’s controlled by the U.S food and drug administration like other dietary supplements. However, it is not approved for various uses. 

This blog contains general information about over-the-counter sleeping pills available in the United States and what type of active ingredients are available. In addition, we have collected information about what causes insomnia, are these OTC sleeping pills addictive, and discussed the best sleeping pills available with lesser or no side effects.


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There was no drug license for melatonin, therefore, the high street sale of these drug is banned by medicines control agency in the UK. 

In our body melatonin is produced naturally and it doesn’t make you sleep, as melatonin level increases in the evening, it could put you in the state of wakefulness that might helps to promote sleep.

The best naturally effective sleep aid is herbs which are as follows: saffron, borage, lavender, passion flower, hypericum, valerian and lemon balm.


Daneman R, Prat A. The blood-brain barrier. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2015;7(1):a020412. Published 2015 Jan 5. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a020412 Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1101%2Fcshperspect.a020412 Accessed on 21/06/2021

Vande Griend, Anderson (2003). Histamine-1 receptor antagonism for treatment of insomnia. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23229983 Accessed on 21/06/2021

Taylor D., Gehrman P., Dautovich N.D., Lichstein K.L., McCrae C.S. (2014) Treating Insomnia. In: Handbook of Insomnia. Springer Healthcare, Tarporley. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-907673-73-3_4

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