Sleep Aids & Accessories
The Best Over the Counter Sleep Aid (Reviewed and Compared)
Beat Your Insomnia and Have a Great Night's Sleep
Having trouble sleeping? You aren’t alone. According to the evidence, 68% of Americans have sleep problems at least once a week. Perhaps it’s time you considered choosing the best over the counter sleep aid for your needs?
Have you tried a natural sleep aid and still failed to get a good night’s rest, but don’t want to take prescription sleeping pills?
There’s a line of products available categorized as over the counter medicine (OTC) for sleep. These products are more effective than herbal remedies and less harmful than prescribed meds.
Read on and learn which products are the best on the market and how we rank them—and feel free to check out our buying guide for additional information.
The 8 Best OTC Sleeping Pills
Affects multiple sleep phases
From $8.19Visit Website
Suitable for pain-sensitive insomnia
Dose increase option
From $11.47Visit Website
Appropriate for stress-related insomnia
33% faster onset of sleep
From $10.52Visit Website
Top Rated OTC Sleep Aid Reviews
Vicks’ ZzzQuil Nighttime Sleep Aid Liquid Review
- Type: Oral liquid
- Free shipping
- Price: $13.82 ($0.86 per serving)
- High potency
- Dose-titration options
- Contains alcohol
Surprisingly, there are no tablets or capsules at the top of our list. First place is reserved for a sweet, lip-warming, and mind-cooling liquid.
Famous for their NyQuil Cold & Flu products, the professionals at Vicks provided us with yet another original product line: ZzzQuil. Best of all, it comes in various strengths and dosage forms.
The traits that position the company’s Nighttime Sleep Aid Liquid as the best OTC sleep aid are its composition and liquid consistency. In every 30ml, you can find a delicious high dose of 50mg diphenhydramine. The liquid formulation makes it absorb fast, and it’s more bioavailable. Put simply, it can make you fall asleep in as few as 20 minutes.
The dosing cap provides dose-titration options, which means that you can safely reduce the dosage to 25mg if it satisfies your needs. ZzzQuil Liquid is used before bedtime, and its warm-berry taste delivers a soothing pre-sleep sensation.
Kirkland Signature Sleep Aid Review
- Type: Tablets
- Free shipping
- Price: $6.90 ($0.07 per tablet)
- Best price
- Prolongs sleep’s duration
- Can only be used for two weeks continuously
Costco provides some of the best OTC sleeping pills; they’re a high-quality product, abundantly packed with small, easy-to-use tablets.
Kirkland Signature has a brand of dietetic supplements that’s getting all the attention nowadays, and for good reason: the cost/effect ratio is thoroughly justified. Each of the 96 tablets in the bottle contains 25mg of doxylamine succinate. Taken 30 minutes before bedtime, one tablet both induces sleep and maintains its quality.
These sleeping pills are suitable for those with acute insomnia, as they act fast and have a long-lasting sedative effect. Moreover, they prolong REM sleep so you can wake up refreshed and free of any post-sleeping-pill hangover.
Kirkland Signature Sleep Aid has favorable user reviews and is often counted among the top 10 sleeping pills in the US. The reason? They’re a bargain.
PCH’s Sominex Nighttime Sleep Aid Review
- Type: Tablets
- Free shipping
- Save up to 15% with additional buying features
- Price: $8.19 ($0.11 per tablet)
- Renowned quality
- Dose-increase options
- Affects multiple sleep phases
- Limited effectiveness
Since it was established over 70 years ago, Sominex has become a prominent brand. It can be found in nearly every pharmacy and wholesaler in the country, and it’s widely known as one of the best over the counter sleep aids.
Over the years, this product has seen some modifications, but never in its fundamental composition. A single dose contains 25mg of diphenhydramine, which is a non-habit-forming antihistamine used to treat mild to moderate insomnia. Since it was initially introduced in sleep therapy, Sominex has become a doctor-preferred OTC medicine for sleep.
Suitable for everyone older than 12, Sominex is used once daily, 30 minutes before bedtime. However, its dose can be increased to two tablets at once, if needed.
It’s considered the best OTC for sleep because it affects all sleep phases without any morning drowsiness or lightheadedness.
Pfizer’s Advil PM Liqui-Gels Review
- Type: Gel capsules
- Free shipping
- Save up to 38% with buying commodities
- Price: $9.99 ($0.12 per capsule)
- Effective with pain-related insomnia
- Supreme quality
- Not for ibuprofen-sensitive people
Pfizer is a world-renowned drug company that makes Advil, a famous painkiller. However, Advil PM is totally another story. And a better one, at that.
The clever composition and artisanal technological aspects make Advil PM the best sleeping pills in the OTC dispensing regime. Each of the 80 capsules has been infused with 200mg of solubilized ibuprofen and 25mg of diphenhydramine. It’s most suitable for those with pain-related insomnia, such as headaches, hormonal problems, migraines, backaches, and even restless leg syndrome.
In addition to the sleeping pills’ ingredients, Pfizer’s formula guarantees a fast effect. The liqui-gels are filled with soluble components to boost its absorption and desired results. It’s designed to express its pain-relieving properties within 10 minutes of ingestion, followed by the onset of sleep.
Best of all, with its affordable price, Advil PM can be considered the best OTC sleep aid for insomnia on the market.
Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol PM Review
- Type: Capsules
- Free shipping
- Save 15% with subscription
- Price: $11.47 ($0.11 per tablet)
- High potency
- Suitable for pain-sensitive insomnia
- Dose increase option
- Higher incidence of interactions with other drugs or food
For those sensitive to non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications, the people at Johnson & Johnson have provided another pain-free alternative for sleep. Renowned for their expertise in pharmaceutical technology, they concocted one of the safest, most effective, non-addictive sleep aids.
Tylenol PM is considered the best sleep aid in over the counter sales across the US. In comparison to other sleep medications, it contains 500mg of paracetamol, which is used to treat fever and pain. With an additional 25mg of diphenhydramine per tablet, this product relieves pain as efficiently as it lures the mind to rest.
The bottle contains 100 of these small, fast-acting tablets, and given that only one should be used before bedtime, the whole package is long-lasting. The provided dosage is suitable for mild headaches, migraines, and temperature-induced sleeplessness in adults. There’s a dose-titration option, so the dose can be increased, making it the best nighttime cold medicine for sleep.
Unisom Sleep Tabs Review
- Type: Tablets
- Free shipping
- 5% discount with subscription
- Price: $10.52 ($0.22 per capsule)
- High quality
- Appropriate for stress-related insomnia
- 33% faster onset of sleep
- Maximum continuous use for two days
It’s always easier to ask a well-established authority for help. That’s the case with Unisom: it’s frequently used and provides high-quality, effective OTC sleep support.
Sleep Tabs have been clinically proven to help you fall asleep 33% faster. With its simple formulation and proven effectiveness, it’s one of the best sleep aids for over the counter purchase.
With 25mg of doxylamine succinate in every tablet, Unisom promises fast sleep onset, while its effects last up to eight hours. If used appropriately, this drug promises a true good night’s rest. Because of its pure composition and fast-acting properties, Unisom Sleep Tabs are the right choice for stress-related insomnia.
There’s a variety of Unisom-labeled sleeping pills over the counter in a pharmacy. However, Sleep Tabs are considered more potent and tolerable than natural sleeping pills. The whole pack contains 48 tablets, but there are bundled purchases to consider when treating a long-term condition. In the case of chronic insomnia, a doctor might increase the dose if you’re taking the best non-habit-forming OTC sleep aid.
Basic Care Extra Strength Acetaminophen PM Caplets Review
- Type: Tablets
- Free shipping
- Save 5%–15% with subscription
- Price: $7.06 ($0.07 per tablet)
- Best price
- Pain reliever
- Highly effective
- May cause dizziness
Amazon’s own product line is more attainable, less pricey, and impressively well-reviewed. Produced in FDA-approved facilities, the Basic Care products carefully follow the recipes of stronger brands in the sleep-product range.
The core ingredients in Basic Care Acetaminophen PM soothe pain and induce stable sleep. It’s one of the best drugs for those sleep deprived due to headaches, migraines, or stress.
Each of the 100 tablets within the pack has 25mg of diphenhydramine, coupled with 500mg of acetaminophen. Although it can be considered a generic to Tylenol PM, this product has the quality and effectiveness of its original but at half the price.
These small, easy-to-use, gluten-free tablets are most effective when used 30 minutes before bedtime, promising headache- and hangover-free mornings.
ValuMeds’ Nighttime Sleep Aid Review
- Type: Tablets
- Free shipping
- Price: $14.99 ($0.08 per tablet)
- High absorption
- High potency
- Lasting pack
- No dose-titration options
While manufacturing their best sleep aid for 2020, the experts at ValuMeds applied every trick in the book and provided us with an easy-to-use, high-potency product of the finest quality.
Each child-proofed bottle contains 96 soft-gels, which are easy to swallow and contain highly absorptive soluble ingredients. This means that the desired effect comes faster and is less corrosive to the stomach. And above all, the buying package includes two bottles for the price of one.
The high diphenhydramine dose of 50mg provides potent sleep-inducing effects. Therefore, we rate it as the best over the counter sleep aid for insomnia that’s anxiety-induced. These represent the more severe cases of chronic sleeplessness. The product is also suitable for third-shift workers and for restless legs syndrome.
Appropriate use and compliance are essential. Hence, one tablet taken before bedtime will do the trick. Considering its strong calming effects, it could induce drowsiness and even cause falls, if taken differently.
And what’s more, the plentiful package will last you for more than half a year and will never form a habit or tolerance of any kind.
How We Do Our Over the Counter Sleep Aid Reviews
– Our Ranking Methodology –
Wholesalers, shopping malls, supermarkets, and even well-equipped gas stations have an assortment of prescription-free sleep remedies that just slide over the counter and into your grocery bag. And what’s great is they’re all labeled as safe, effective, and of excellent quality.
Well, we beg to differ! Many of the sleeping products out there either aren’t FDA regulated or they’ve taken advantage of a legislative loophole, which allows them to put an advertising sentence on their label.
As it happens, choosing the best OTC product for insomnia is more challenging than it initially seems. A doctor and a pharmacist would give you the best possible advice on this topic. But not everyone has the time to go to a professional for something as small as a few sleepless nights.
Saving you that time is our purpose. We’ve undertaken a series of professional assessments to give you the best possible solution for your insomnia. This was accomplished by diving into the sea of prescription-free products to choose the best over the counter medicine for your sleep-related problems.
This, we do in four detailed steps:
We Check the Ingredients
The effectiveness of a product depends on its composition or, in this case, on the ingredients and their dose. In contrast to natural sleep aids, OTC products are FDA-regulated and considered a medication. Therefore, the active ingredient and its maximum daily dose are not debatable.
The primary sleep-related compounds come from the first-generation of antihistamines—the ones that sedate. The best sleep aid pills for over the counter sales contain either diphenhydramine hydrochloride or doxylamine succinate.
We determine the effectiveness of the product based on the dose of these two ingredients. In some cases, a product contains more than just an antihistamine substance, which broadens its usability.
Sleep problems are often related to some other indisposition, and for that reason, the right combo scores higher on our list.
We Assess the Pharmaceutical Dosage Form
The manufacturer’s production standards and the technological aspects of the product are of the highest importance when choosing the best OTC sleeping pills for insomnia. In other words, the chosen active compound won’t fulfill its purpose if it isn’t backed up with supporting ingredients.
Pharmaceutical companies are, by default, FDA-restrained to incorporate the highest manufacturing standards when producing a drug. However, the choice of the form of the product is left on their R&D. There are three main types of formulations in which an OTC sleep aid can be found:
- Liquids: These are more expensive, and their production requires special conditions. Nevertheless, liquids are highly digestible and offer a quick effect, also providing a flavor-based option in the best products for sleep.
- Tablets: Being small, firm, and practical, they’re the traditional sleeping pills.
- Gel capsules: These are small, active, solution-filled soft capsules that are easier to swallow than tablets and have the onset properties of a liquid dosing form.
The overall effectiveness of the product depends on the main substances used as much as on the choice of dosage form.
We Seriously Consider the Safety Issues
Every substance that has been described as a drug can also poison you if not used appropriately. The top-rated OTC sleep aids are required to have a high safety profile in terms of overdosing, interactions, and side effects.
Even if used according to the instructions, adverse effects may occur. The higher the dose, the higher the side-effect incidence. It’s of utmost importance that a chosen sleep aid has a low side effect rate in its recommended doses.
Additionally, the best ones are less likely to cause a food-drug or drug-drug interaction, especially when used to treat the elderly.
We Care About Your Expenses
The best over the counter sleep aid pills must not only meet pharmacological requirements but financial ones, too. If you’re about to spend thousands of dollars to aid your insomnia, you might consider cognitive therapy, or maybe buy a new mattress.
Most retailers offer various purchasing benefits, such as free shipping, loyalty discounts, or bundle discounts. We calculate the best value of the OTC sleep medications by using a complex formula that integrates the pharmaceutical traits of the product and projects them in a price-per-dose ratio. This way, we ensure that you don’t overpay and that you get high-quality zzzs for your money.
Picking the Best Over the Counter Sleep Aid
– Buyer’s Guide –
A good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy brain and body. Without it, it can be hard to stay on track during your daily activities, and what’s more, it adversely affects emotions, behaviors, and work productivity.
The most common insomnia causes are the following:
- Medications: High blood pressure meds, antidepressants, or even antiepileptics can affect sleep.
- Mental health problems: Both anxiety and depression are related to some form of sleep disorder.
- Other diseases: Conditions associated with chronic pain or prostate problems impact sleep.
- Stress: Upsetting experiences can keep us awake all night.
- Substance use: Taking stimulants, such as nicotine or caffeine-induced products, can alter sleep patterns.
The choice of the best over the counter or natural sleep aid for your needs has to resonate with these issues. For instance, treating an anxiety-related sleep deficiency without a tranquilizing substance is bound to be less effective.
As mentioned, acute insomnia develops as a consequence of other conditions or lifestyle choices. On the other hand, chronic insomnia develops over time, along with other neurological, psychiatric, or inflammation-related diseases.
The first line of defense should always be behavioral changes. A professional will advise you on how to change your morning and evening habits in order to destimulate your nervous system and induce sleep.
If that doesn’t help, you can always choose the best nighttime sleep aid in over-the-counter purchases.
What Are Sleep Aids?
We can choose from a variety of products or natural concoctions, but our choice has to be based upon our actual needs. For example, a potent herbal tea can calm your nerves, but it won’t induce deep sleep for those with chronic sleep disorders.
That said, the only way we can accurately classify sleeping aids is based on their potency. In essence, the more chemically enhanced the substance is, the more soothing properties it will have.
Generally speaking, whether you choose an OTC product or homeopathic medicine for good sleep, the active principles in it need to have sedative or/and hypnotic properties.
Sedatives, also known as tranquilizers, are the substances that depress the central nervous system by reducing neurostimulation in the synapses within the brain. They’re effective in most cases of mild insomnia. However, they won’t actually induce sleep, nor will they stabilize it.
Hypnotic sleep aids are more potent because they act on deeper levels of the brain and induce the onset of sleep. The most powerful ones can affect particular sleep phases and restore rest in chronically sleep-deprived people.
All things considered, the best medicine for good sleep can either be prescribed by a physician or purchased in a pharmacy. Read on, and see how they’re different.
Types of Sleep Aids
These can be considered the drugs that make you sleep instantly. We use them for sleep disorders exclusively, as prescribed by a doctor.
They fall into the hypnotic category and have the potency to induce deep sleep. Therefore, these drugs are the strongest prescription sleeping pills on the market and are not to be used lightly.
The most effective sleeping pills are benzodiazepines, such as nitrazepam or diazepam. The most common non-benzodiazepine, strong sleeping pills’ names are Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata.
These two groups of drugs are used to treat moderate to severe insomnia and have an acceptable safety profile. The common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, and decreased alertness and concentration. There are low chances of death caused by overdose.
However, there are more potent drugs out there, such as barbiturates and quinazolinones. They’re mostly disregarded in sleep therapy because of their possibly fatal side effects.
Natural Sleep Aids
Although often referred to as sleeping pills, these are not medications. This means that you can buy the best natural sleep aid for your needs without any professional consultation. But will they work?
They may come in tablet or capsule form, but they’re composed of herbal extracts, synthetic hormones, vitamins, and minerals. Their recommended daily allowance rates aren’t always certain, and their production is not FDA-regulated in comparison to medications.
The advantage of natural products is that their composition can be imaginatively complex. They often contain magnesium for muscle relaxation, in addition to herbal sedatives, such as valerian root, magnolia bark, hops flowers, or lemon balm leaves. However, the best OTC product for insomnia must have melatonin, a safe, sleep-inducing hormone.
Considered safe in low-dose forms, these products can be the right choice of sleep medicine for kids. Melatonin-based sleep medicine for toddlers can be found in chewable gummies, and there’s also a homeopathic-based choice of medicine for putting a baby to sleep.
The effectiveness of natural sleeping products is mainly based on their composition. Hence, they’re officially viewed as less potent and are used to treat mild to moderate insomnia.
OTC Sleep Aids
Possibly the best choice of sleep medicine for insomnia can be found somewhere in between prescription drugs and natural sleep aids. This is why we pick OTC products.
Technically speaking, these are drugs made from synthetic substances in FDA-regulated facilities. This means that their manufacturers are obligated to infuse quality into these products. OTC products, however, do not contain hypnotics or any other fatally harmful substances.
These are prescription-free medications that are sold in pharmacies in an over-the-counter regime. In other words, they’re intended for self-medication. Even the best over the counter sleep aids for insomnia are not considered the strongest sleeping pills.
Nonetheless, they have proven sedative and sleep-inducing properties, which makes them the right choice for mild, moderate, and sometimes even severe insomnia.
In general, only one group of sleep-inducing chemicals is officially stated as safe and can be sold without a prescription. These are the first generation of H1-antagonists, popularly known as antihistamines.
Histamine is a signaling molecule found abundantly in the human body. It’s produced by various cells in order to regulate specific metabolic actions, such as inflammation and blood vessel contraction. Among others, histamine affects digestion, breathing, motor coordination, and skin metabolism.
The best OTC sleeping pills that work on the body’s histamine pathways actually block its pro-allergic effects. Histamine is the most important biochemical mediator of allergies, as it directly influences skin rashes, swelling of the throat, sweats, and other mucosal reactions.
Antihistamines were initially developed to treat allergy symptoms, but their structure was fat enough to cross the blood-brain barrier and induce powerful sedation. Over the years, new generations of antihistamine molecules were designed, which leave a user’s state of consciousness intact.
Today, the first generation of antihistamines is seldom used for allergies. Instead, they’re incorporated into some of the best products for insomnia. Mainstream pharmaceutical companies use two of the safest antihistamine substances to produce their OTC drugs: doxylamine succinate and diphenhydramine hydrochloride.
Doxylamine Succinate vs. Diphenhydramine HCl
It has been used in therapy since the 1950s and still remains one of the most effective and safe OTC substances. It’s often used in combination with vitamin B6 for the treatment of nausea.
In terms of sleep therapy, it’s fast-acting, reaching its peak in the body within an hour. Its effects, however, can last up to twelve hours, and that’s why it’s among the best OTC sleeping pills for long flights. This also means it shouldn’t be taken unless you plan to sleep the whole night. Otherwise, it causes morning drowsiness and fatigue.
This is the most commonly used antihistamine drug in the world, although differently regulated in some countries. It’s considered less potent than doxylamine and acts for a shorter period.
A diphenhydramine-based sleep aid has a better safety profile, and if delivered in the optimal pharmaceutical form, it acts quickly and leaves no morning side effects.
This compound is frequently used as the best OTC sleep aid for anxiety, as it relaxes the stomach and skeletal muscles, and quickly afterward, it induces sleep. In the US and Australia, diphenhydramine is commonly known as Benadryl for sleep.
Safety and Side Effects
Antihistamines affect the entire body, from head to toe, and as such, they aren’t to be used lightly. Although rare, the side effects that may occur for diphenhydramine and doxylamine are as follows:
- Dry mouth
- Urine retention
- Blurred vision
Antihistamines for sleep should not be mixed with other allergy medication unless prescribed by a specialist. Doxylamine-based sleep aids in the over the counter market are best used separately from any other medication, while diphenhydramine can be used concomitantly.
Between these two, diphenhydramine has the advantage of faster elimination. Additionally, there have been reported cases of doxylamine-induced coma, which makes this component less desirable in the elderly and patients with certain other chronic problems.
Even in long-term use, these antihistamines have a low adverse-effect incidence rate and aren’t likely to get you addicted, in comparison to prescription sleeping pills.
How to Use OTC Sleep Aids Safely
The recommendations state that the best OTC medication for insomnia is to be used 30 minutes before bedtime. In some cases, the pharmaceutical formulation may impose different usage. For example, liquids and gel-capsules are rapidly absorbed and act more quickly, thus they should be used according to their instructions.
OTC sleeping meds aren’t to be used during the day because they can induce sleepiness and cause falls, fractures, or traffic accidents. The only recommended uses during daytime are in the case of long flights and for sleep among third-shift workers.
Can You Take OTC Sleep Aids While Pregnant?
If pregnant, you should consider consulting with your physician to find the best OTC med for sleep. There’s no data indicating adverse incidence with the use of antihistamines in pregnancy and lactation. However, the pharmacological preferences of these drugs imply the influence over the entire body, which raises the odds of side effects.
Are OTC Sleep Aids Safe for Children?
OTC sleeping meds are not meant for small children. The use of both diphenhydramine and doxylamine is allowed in ages 12 and older. The reason for this is the lack of data for this particular age-group.
It’s safe to say that the choice of a sleep aid for children in over-the-counter sales should be made between melatonin-based natural supplements.
This is because the first-generation antihistamines have intense anticholinergic activity. This means that they interact with different regulatory functions within the body. In the younger population, this increases the risk of developing an additional pathology, as well as the onset of an underlying psychopathology.
Can OTC Sleep Aids Be Used for Something Other Than Sleep?
Antihistamines are a well-known allergy medicine. In some countries, OTC drugs that contain the first generation of these drugs are registered for various allergy symptoms. The truth is that many people actually use allergy medicine for sleep.
Additionally, antihistamines can be found in some compound cold medications, in which they act as the first-symptom stabilizers. However, when used for this purpose, caution is recommended because of its sedative effects.
Nowadays, everybody knows how to treat mild insomnia. Ads for natural products can be seen just about anywhere. However, on most occasions they won’t work. That’s why finding the best over the counter sleep aid is the central topic of this article.
OTC meds are FDA-approved, clinically confirmed for effectiveness, and thoroughly studied for side effects. They can relieve occasional insomnia and even help in its more severe cases. But which one to buy?
We’ve done the math and saved you from having to scour the drugstore aisles by narrowing down your choices for the best over the counter sleep aid. Which one do you prefer?
Disclaimer: Even though you don’t need a prescription for these products, always consult with a licensed physician before taking any supplements.
What is the best OTC sleep aid?
OTC sleep aids are prescription-free drugs that can be acquired in a pharmacy. Structurally, they’re the first generation antihistamines (diphenhydramine HCL or doxylamine succinate), which have potent sedative properties. The best choice will have an antihistamine coupled with adequate supporting substances in order to produce the desired effect. The commonly used products are ZzzQuil, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, or Kirkland Signature Nighttime Sleep Aid.
What is the best medicine for sleep?
Choosing the appropriate medicine for sleep depends on the type of insomnia. Occasional sleeplessness can be effectively treated with natural sleep aids, which contain melatonin, valerian, and hops. Moderate insomnia will require stronger natural combinations or an antihistamine-based OTC product. Severe forms of insomnia are treated with prescription medications, such as sedative-hypnotics.
How do sleeping pills work?
Sedative-hypnotics act on the parts of the brain responsible for the downregulation of neural activity. They are potent depressants and are often accompanied by side effects. OTC products contain antihistamines that also act as depressants but have lower activity and are regarded as safe.
What is the best cough medicine for sleep?
Cough medicines, such as codeine or ketotifen syrups, are prescription-only and should be used with caution in order to avoid dependence. Antihistamines also have sedative properties and can be found in some composite cold preparations. They often accompany paracetamol and are more effective if taken with a nasal decongestant.