Over the counter sleep aids should only be used on an occasional basis. For example, using OTC sleep aids following a tragedy, like the death of a loved one is okay. Using them more often is not.
They are drugs. You can become addicted to them and will eventually build up a tolerance to them, meaning that they will stop working.
The active ingredient in an over the counter sleep aid might be an antihistamine like in Benadryl. It will probably help you sleep, but it will also dry out your mouth and nasal passages. It can cause sinus headaches, for which people often choose another OTC med. All of these drugs are bad for the liver and people take too many of them.
Prescription sleep aids are no better than OTC sleep aids. In some ways, they could even be worse. A recent study found that one of the most common causes of traffic accidents in the early morning was the driver falling asleep behind the wheel. The study also showed that those drivers had taken a sleeping pill the night before. Generally, sleep related traffic accidents account for thousands of deaths every year. According to a UK study for the Department for Transport, 17 percent of traffic accidents were sleep related.
Psychological dependence is another problem with over the counter sleep aids, meaning that the person begins to “think” that they will not be able to fall asleep or stay asleep without the drug. There is no doubt that insomnia is frustrating and causes numerous health problems, but there are better, more natural sleep aids and herbal sleep remedies.
The first step is to identify the cause of the sleeping problem. For many people, it is a problem with what researchers call “poor sleep hygiene”. Doctors often include many factors in assessing a person’s sleep hygiene, unless they are the type of doctor that simply reaches for the prescription pad.
The experts recommend that other efforts are exhausted before OTC sleep aids are used or other drugs are prescribed. They should only be used as a last resort and then only with regular follow-up care.
Many people think that drugs available without a prescription are safe; otherwise they wouldn’t be on the shelf. The truth is that no drug is completely safe, whether you are talking about an over the counter sleep aid or an aspirin. There are always side effects to be aware of.
The drugs are even more dangerous for some people, such as those that suffer from sleep apnea, when breathing stops intermittently during sleep. The additional muscle relaxation could cause death.
The bottom line is that over the counter sleep aids are not 100% safe. Speak to your doctor before you try them.