Sleep Aids: Types, Benefits, and Considerations


May 25, 2023 5 MIN READ

Sleep Aids

Sleep Aids: Types, Benefits, and Considerations

Struggling to get a whole night of restful sleep can be frustrating, often worsening the situation. Absent that rest, drowsiness plagues your day, and you are more irritable and less able to be fully present. When should you look into sleep aids?

Insomnia is an insidious sleep issue afflicting nearly 15% of American adults, causing these symptoms and more.

In their desperate search for relief, many sleep-deprived individuals turn to various sleep aids.

What Are Sleep Aids?

According to the CDC, more than 8% of adults indicate using some sleep aid at least four times over the preceding week.

The sedative effect of most sleep aids makes you feel drowsy and fall asleep. Sleep can come quickly, or it may have a long-lasting impact to help you sleep through the night. What prompts that sedative effect depends on the chemical composition of the sleep aid.

As with all medications, there are potential benefits and downsides to certain sleep aids, making it crucial that you educate yourself about the options, benefits, and potential issues of your choices.

It is essential that you talk with your primary care provider about your sleep issues and the strategies you wish to follow to improve your sleep. Some sleep aids can affect other medications, and your doctor will help you make the safe choice for your specific situation.

Anything that can help you fall or stay asleep is a sleep aid. These solutions might include prescription medications, over-the-counter sleep aids, herbal remedies, and devices for promoting sleep.

Prescription Sleep Aids

Through extensive testing and trials, prescription medications achieve FDA approval before becoming available. A written prescription from your doctor is necessary to purchase any prescription drug.

Prescription sleep aids reduce central nervous system activity to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Side effects can include dizziness, headaches, and drowsiness, and some prescriptions may be habit-forming, often with withdrawal-like symptoms when suddenly stopping treatment.

There are different classes of prescription sleeping aids. Depending on a drug’s effect on the brain and its chemical makeup, it will fall into one of these categories.

Melatonin Receptor Agonists

By increasing the body’s level of the hormone melatonin, these medications help promote sleep.


Created to treat depression, antidepressant drugs often have a sedative effect and are now in use as sleep aids in many cases. However, the FDA only approves one of these drugs for treating insomnia.

Z Drugs

Prescriptions in this category slow down brain activity resulting in a sedative effect and promoting sleep.


Among the first medications for treating insomnia, this class of prescription drugs is similar to Z Drugs in the way they work, slowing brain activity to aid in falling asleep.

Off-Label Prescriptions

Upon FDA approval for a medication’s intended use, doctors will often prescribe it for other off-label purposes and treatments. In that regard, anti-psychopathic and anticonvulsant drugs are occasionally the choice for addressing sleep challenges. Although typically, the data regarding the safety and effectiveness of off-label prescriptions are minimal.

Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids

Since OTC medications do not require a prescription, they are widely available and easy to purchase. These medications are usually less potent than their prescription counterparts and appropriate only for short-term use.

While antihistamines are a typical treatment for allergies, their sedative effect makes them popular as sleep aids, Benadryl is one of the most common.

Over-the-counter medications often have side effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness. In some cases, OTC medications can interact with specific prescriptions and may not be appropriate or safe for some, like those pregnant or with particular underlying health concerns.

Herbal Sleep Aids

Chamomile, lavender, passionflower, and valerian root produce relaxation to aid in falling asleep and are among the most popular herbal sleep aids. Herbal remedies, while widely considered safe and effective in short-term use, can vary greatly in potency and quality.

Along with these specific selections, some brands combine herbal and natural ingredients to create proprietary sleep aids. You will find a wide selection of these products online and in retail locations.

These supplements typically do not receive FDA approval or scrutiny. You must talk with your doctor about the supplements you wish to take, as some herbal sleep aids will affect certain prescription medications you may be taking.

Devices to Help You Sleep

Various products like sleep masks, weighted blankets, and white noise generators are among the most common sleep aid devices. CPAP machines for treating sleep apnea are another often-used sleep aid device.

Depending on your specific sleep issues, any of these devices can offer some relief. Except for CPAP machines for treating sleep apnea, the typical sleep device is available without a prescription or a doctor’s visit.

Sleep Aid Benefits

Whichever type of sleep aid you choose, the main benefit is their ability to cause drowsiness to help you fall asleep and sleep through the night. Achieving better sleep using sleep aids in the short term can help reduce impaired thinking and sleepiness during the day. It can also assist in resetting your sleep schedule to help you achieve better and more consistent sleep.

What Is the Best Sleep Aid?

There is no perfect sleep aid, and no single product or medication can address every sleep problem. A sleep aid tailored to your specific needs, sleep issues, overall health, age, and current medications is your best choice.

In many cases, medications are not the ideal route. Improving sleep hygiene, improving your sleep environment, and other non-medical solutions can substantially improve your sleep quality.

Additionally, upon review, you and your doctor may discover that a combination of non-medical and medical treatments will best serve your needs. It is essential to work closely with your doctor or sleep coach to create a best practice to improve your sleep.

The Safety of Sleep Aids

While most sleep aids, prescription, and non-prescription, are safe and effective for short-term use, certain populations should give careful consideration before employing sleep medications.

These include:

Senior Adults

The particular challenges of older people regarding their risk of falling and potential disorientation make using sedative drugs potentially hazardous.

Those Pregnant or Breast-Feeding

Some prescriptions and over-the-counter sleep aids may pose particular risks to these populations. It’s best to check with your physician even if no specific warning is on the product.


Due to their ongoing physical and mental development, children often react differently to drugs than adults, which can harm their long-term health.

Anyone dealing with these or other underlying health concerns should carefully assess any sleep aids they wish to use and discuss their strategies thoroughly with their healthcare provider.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the best sleep aid for you is a process. Understanding your specific sleep issue, assessing whether medical or non-medical treatment is appropriate, and working with your medical team to determine the safest and most effective products for you specifically are all crucial questions you must answer.

And while sleep aids are generally safe for short-term use and can be very beneficial in resetting your sleep schedule and helping you gain more restful sleep, shifting your perspective and developing the skills to help you sleep more soundly in the future can be a game changer.

Sleep Science Academy’s unique and empowering sleep coaching program and professional sleep coaches can guide you in creating those tools and achieving a lifelong habit of restorative sleep.

You can read this short article to learn more about Dynamic Sleep Recalibration and the Sleep Science Academy difference.
Next, schedule your complimentary sleep consultation and speak with one of our sleep coaches to understand how Sleep Science Academy can help you achieve the restful sleep you deserve and need.