It’s almost always better to treat the underlying problem of your sleep problems, like anxiety and depression, rather than resorting to sleep aids. But for people who aren’t benefiting from other treatments like exercise, medical sleep aids may be useful for the occasional use when you need to get some much needed rest.
There are over-the-counter drugs like Nitol and Unisom, which are available without a prescription. The active ingredients in these medications are antihistamines that are used to treat allergies, but one of their side effects is that they make people feel sleepy. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, studies have concluded that the OTC drugs are capable of making people sleepy, although the effect may be mild.
If an the counter drug isn’t working or you’d rather take prescription medications, make an appointment to see your doctor. The doctor may want to run some test — maybe even a sleep study called a polysomnography — in order to rule out other potential medical issues that could be causing your sleep problems.
Before you go into the doctor, think about the symptoms of your sleeping problems. Different sleep aids treat different symptoms, so your doctor will need to know what kinds of problems you’re having. Do you have trouble falling asleep? Or is your problem that you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? Perhaps both?
These medications help you fall asleep:
• Rozerem (ramelteon)
• Halcion (triazolam)
• Sonata (zaleplon)
• Edluar/Ambien (zolpidem)
These medications will help you stay asleep:
• Prosom (estazolam)
• Restoril (temazepam)
These medications will do both:
• Lunesta (eszopiclone)
• Ambien CR (zolpidem)
Ambien is listed twice, because Ambien CR is a newer version of Ambien and contains an extra layer. The second layer contains a delayed-release medication that releases while you sleep and may help you sleep better.
Ambien CR and Lunesta are the drugs you’ve most likely heard about because of heavy advertisements. Ambien has the rooster that keeps people up at night while Lunesta’s advertisements feature the glowing butterflies. While those are certainly potential options to discuss with your doctor, there are plenty of additional medications available. Many of them, like Halcion and the original Ambien, are available as generics, which are usually cheaper. If that’s important to you, remember to discuss the option of generic medications with your doctor.
You’ll also want to discuss the side effects of the drugs; some can stay in your bloodstream after you wake up and potentially cause daytime drowsiness. Others can interact with some medications, so be sure to discuss other medications you take with your doctor.
While current drugs are relatively safe, there’s some risk of dependence. It’s likely that your doctor will only prescribe the drug for 2 weeks to decrease the chance of dependence.
Not every medication works for every person sleep better, so talk to your doctor if the prescribed drug isn’t treating your symptoms. As you can see from the list above, there are plenty of options if you need a little extra help sleeping.