More than 25 percent of the U.S. population have occasional problems sleeping, while 10 percent have chronic sleeping issues, according to the National Institutes of Health. While sleeping aids cannot cure insomnia, they can offer temporary relief to those who are having trouble getting to sleep. If sleeplessness lasts more than three weeks, sleeping aids can actually be counterproductive and should not be considered as an alternative to seeing a sleep specialist. Insomnia is a complex condition that can be caused by many psychological and physical issues, and the best results of sleeping medications come when used in conjunction with therapy and a focus on making lifestyle changes to promote sleep.
The most effective sleep aids on the market are prescription sleep drugs known as hypnotics. These medications induce sleepiness, preventing awakenings during the night and increase the quality of sleep. Three popular hypnotics are zolpidem, zaleplon and triazolam. These safe pharmaceuticals are not as likely to be abused as some older sleep medications, but they are not recommended for more than four weeks of use.
Ramelteon is a fresh alternative to the standard hypnotic because it works by mimicking melatonin, a hormone that leads to the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Known as a selective ML-1 receptor agonist, ramelteon increases the duration of sleep while decreasing the time it takes to get to sleep. Ramelteon has fewer side effects than other hypnotics and also does not cause dependence, according to sleep research reported by SleepDex.org.
Melatonin is also available as a dietary supplement without a prescription. The short-term use of melatonin has proven useful for lessening the symptoms of jet lag, according to the National Institutes of Health. Research indicates that melatonin reduces the time it takes to get to sleep and increases alertness during the day. However, the evidence of melatonin’s effectiveness for insomnia is still controversial.
The most effective over-the-counter sleep medications are antihistamines, according to the National Sleep Foundation. These medications stop the body’s production of histamines, creating a side effect of drowsiness. As with prescription sleep aids, these medications are not meant for long-term use. They also have some common side effects, including dry mouth, prolonged sleepiness and dizziness.