Sleep Health

Can You Find a Good Night's Sleep at the Drugstore?

Everyone knows what it’s like to have a bad sleep night – you either can’t fall asleep, or you can’t stay that way. That’s probably why prescriptions are so common.

According to experts at Harvard Medical School, a small survey of people 60 and older found that more than a quarter had taken nonprescription sleeping aids in the previous year. One in 12 did so daily.

But despite the wide selection of over-the-counter sleep aids, the Harvard experts say that almost all of them have the antihistamine diphenhydramine as their primary active ingredient. That substance can be combined with a pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol PM), ibuprofen (Motrin PM) or naproxen. Brand names of these products include Tylenol PM, Motrin PM, and Aleve PM. Generic versions containing the same ingredients are cheaper.

Diphenhydramine can help you fall asleep. But, the Harvard experts caution it can have side effects, such as making you too drowsy in the morning.

Other side effects include dry mouth, upset stomach, blurry vision, and constipation. In older people, the Harvard experts say, diphenhydramine can cause confusion. Some children who take diphenhydramine initially become overactive before they finally fall asleep.

When in doubt, ask your health care practitioner what sleep aid is right for you.

To read more about ways to improve your sleep as well as the pros and cons of using prescription sleep aids, dietary supplements, herbal remedies, or mechanical devices, buy Improving Sleep, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. Click here to order.