Until you’ve faced a serious bout of insomnia or sleep deprivation it can be hard to understand just how difficult it is to deal with. Long nights turn into irritable days and a raft of health problems can come your way.
This can be made even more frustrating because there are a wide variety of sedatives and psychoactive drugs on the market that can get you to sleep almost instantly. However, most of us have heard bad things about sleeping pills and medical professionals are reserved in their recommendation of them.
So what’s so wrong with over-the-counter sleeping pills and are natural sleep aids any better?
What are The Difference between Natural and Over the Counter Sleeping Pills?
Let’s begin by looking at exactly what natural and over-the-counter sleeping pills are because often they get lumped together and equally judged.
Natural sleep aids
A natural sleeping pill or sleep aid isn’t necessarily made of ‘natural’ ingredients. Some ingredients such as ‘tryptophan’ are amino acids which are synthetically made, although many common ingredients such as valerian root and chamomile are truly natural.
What the ‘natural’ really refers to is how the ingredients work with your body’s natural processes to help you sleep. Melatonin, for example, is a hormone already produced by your body in response to darkness to help you fall asleep.
When you take a natural sleeping pill it is not ‘knocking you out’ but instead encourages relaxation or increases the production of sleep hormones. For this reason, they are often called ‘sleep aids’ rather than ‘sleeping pills’ because they are aiding your sleep process.
Many natural sleeping aids will only really be effective if you are actively trying to get back into a healthy sleep cycle. You can’t expect some valerian root to coax you into a deep sleep if you spend the whole day pounding down coffee and you have a deep-rooted anxiety disorder that you’re ignoring.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills
There is a variety of heavier duty sleeping pills out there and there can be some further confusion because ‘over-the-counter’ and ‘prescription’ medication is not the same thing.
An over-the-counter medicine is one that must follow a certain recipe but you do not need a doctor’s prescription to buy them. A doctor can still prescribe over-the-counter medicine as a course of treatment but you could buy them anyway.
Lines are sometimes blurred even further because what can be sold over-the-counter changes depending on your local laws. In some locations, only very mild sleeping pills can be bought without a prescription and in other locations, you can buy quite heavy sedatives with no questions asked.
Generally speaking, over-the-counter sleeping pills use some form of antihistamines to help you sleep. These sleeping pills share many of the same properties that you find in allergy and hay fever medication.
The antihistamine causes drowsiness by suppressing the functioning of histamine: a chemical in your body that regulates your immune system and sleep functioning. When histamine is suppressed in the right way it can cause intense drowsiness and so certain antihistamines work as a sedative.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills don’t work quite like benzos such as temazepam, which releases a neurotransmitter that slows the mind down. Instead, antihistamines create a longer period of drowsiness that will allow you to fall asleep very quickly when you try to.
Common brands of sleep-inducing antihistamines include Nytol, Compoz, Unisom, and Nighttime Sleep Aid.
What’s Wrong with Over the Counter Sleeping Pills?
Over-the-counter sleeping pills come with four big problems.
- Your body will quickly build up a tolerance to sleeping pills when you take them frequently – some users take less than a week to build up a strong tolerance.
This means that over-the-counter medicine doesn’t provide a long-term solution.
- Many people are unable to take sleeping pills. Pregnant women, asthmatics, and those suffering various other underlying health conditions shouldn’t take them.
- Sleeping pills come with many side-effects such as nausea or constipation and they will often give a drowsy hangover that lasts well into the next day.
This can be quite a strange sensation because you will feel groggy and well-rested at the same time. This side-effect makes them less suitable for everyday use.
- Once you’ve taken an antihistamine sleeping pill you will enter a state of drowsiness that you can’t come out of until the next day without more medication. This can cause complications if you need to wake up quickly.
Does This Mean Natural Sleep Aids are Better?
Natural sleep aids are not necessarily better than over-the-counter sleeping pills so much as they provide a different effect.
Natural sleep aids are there to help you fix a bad sleeping pattern or to help you relax and ease into a deep sleep.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills, on the other hand, should only be used for two or three nights in a row and really only in instances where sleeping will come with extra difficulties, such as on an airplane. However, if you are looking for a way to treat insomnia, then over-the-counter sleeping pills won’t really help you.
For almost any long-term sleeping issue, natural sleep aids should be your first line of action. They will consistently work over time and will encourage good sleeping habits.
I personally have been using an excellent Natural Sleep Aid with great results. This sleep aid is a combination of Melatonin, Valerian Root, Chamomile as well a few other choice herbs that have truly helped with adding in my sleep patterns.
In addition, natural sleep aids aren’t likely to give you any hangover and side-effects are rarer. This means they are more suitable if you can’t afford to be drowsy the next day.
Natural sleep aids can come with some downsides. Pregnant women and people with high blood pressure should avoid ingredients such as valerian root.
There is also a risk with any sleep aid (over-the-counter, natural, or otherwise) that they can become a crutch you rely on to fall asleep. Natural sleep aids have not been found to be physically or psychologically addictive but humans are quick to adopt new sleeping mechanisms.
Nevertheless, when used as part of a healthy approach to sleep most people shouldn’t find it difficult to stop using natural sleep aids when they’ve regained a restful sleeping pattern.