The Pros and Cons of Different Sleep Aids

The Pros and Cons of Different Sleep Aids

Body clock out of kilter? Trouble drifting off, or keep waking in the night? You’re not alone. One in three Brits are failing to meet the recommended nightly sleep quota (of between seven and nine hours, FYI). 

In the search for a good night’s kip, many people turn to sleep aids, ranging from prescription drugs to over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements.

More than 8% of adults report using sleep aids multiple times within the past week alone. But given the huge amount of available options, it can be hard to weigh up the pros and cons to work out which one suits you best.

To give you a helping hand, we’ve deep dived into various sleep aids and their mechanisms. 

Armed with this knowledge, you can make an informed decision, identifying the most suitable sleep aid for your needs and making sure you’re using it safely.

Selecting the ideal sleep aid for you

If you’re suffering with insomnia, your GP can help offer personalised recommendations based on factors such as:

  • The nature and origins of your sleep disturbances
  • Your age and overall health, including any pre-existing medical conditions
  • Other medication you may be taking

Whether you're considering prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements, your healthcare provider can talk you through any advantages and drawbacks, ensuring proper dosage and timing for optimal effectiveness.

Sometimes, the most effective solution for sleep issues may not involve medication at all. Non-pharmacological interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) or working on healthy sleep habits can significantly improve sleep quality. These methods can be integrated with supplements as part of a long-term strategy to achieve sustained improvements in sleep - without dependence on sleep aids.

Prescription medications for insomnia

Prescription sleep aids are solely available through pharmacies, requiring a doctor's signature for access. Insomnia, characterised by difficulty falling or staying asleep, is the most prevalent sleep disorder, often treated with prescription sleep medications.

Various types of drugs may be prescribed, each with distinct chemical compositions and comparable effects and potential side effects.

Z Drugs

Z drugs are sedative-hypnotic medications that induce drowsiness. Named for the letter "Z" featured in their drug names, they are commonly used to address insomnia.

Specific Z Drugs Approved for Insomnia: Zolpidem, Eszopiclone, Zaleplon, Zopiclone

Recommended Usage: FDA-approved for short-term insomnia treatment, some Z drugs aid in both sleep initiation and maintenance, while others are recommended solely for sleep onset.

Side effects of sleeping pills:

Daytime drowsiness: Lingering effects on cognitive function may persist into the following day, leading to drowsiness or impaired alertness, potentially endangering activities like driving.

Cognitive impairment: Besides inducing drowsiness, Z drugs may cause balance issues and decreased mental acuity, increasing the risk of falls or accidents.

Dependence: Individuals may develop a dependency on Z drugs, leading to prolonged or higher-than-prescribed usage.

Withdrawal: Abrupt cessation of Z drugs can result in withdrawal symptoms, including worsened sleep, physical discomfort, impaired cognition, and mood changes.

Abnormal behaviour: Some individuals exhibit peculiar behaviors while semi-conscious after taking Z drugs, posing potential hazards such as attempting to drive a vehicle.

Exacerbation of depression: Some individuals with depression may experience heightened symptoms while taking Z drugs.

Allergic reactions: Though rare, allergic reactions to Z drugs can be severe, potentially triggering anaphylaxis.

Melatonin for insomnia 

Melatonin is known as the ‘sleep hormone’. It occurs naturally in your body and helps control your sleep patterns. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland (a pea-shaped structure in the middle of your brain) that’s connected to your brain clock (official name is suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN). When it gets dark, your SCN tells your pineal gland to start releasing melatonin.

Most people’s bodies produce enough melatonin for sleep on their own, but some (and probably you if you’re reading this) really struggle; that’s why melatonin sleep aids are growing in popularity - its use in the US has grown by a staggering 500% in the last 20 years. 

Melatonin in artificial form, though, is currently banned in the UK and most of Europe, apart from on prescription. Surely there’s a reason it’s not legal?

Quite possibly. Here’s why:

  • The side effects of taking artificial melatonin are not yet fully known - more research on melatonin’s long-term safety is needed.
  • This kind of synthetic melatonin should only be taken for short periods of time to help with circadian rhythm disruption, for example as a result of jet lag or shift work - it is not a long-term sleep solution.
  • Its short-term release means you may still wake in the night once it’s worn off.
  • It is a synthetic, artificial hormone replacement - not something most of us want to put in our bodies if we can help it. 

Side effects of melatonin

Daytime drowsiness: The residual effects of melatonin can carry over into the next day, resulting in drowsiness or impaired alertness, which may affect activities such as driving.

Cognitive impairment: Melatonin may cause balance issues and reduced mental sharpness, increasing the likelihood of falls or accidents.

Hormonal effects: Long-term use of melatonin can interfere with the body's natural hormone production, potentially impacting reproductive health and puberty timing in adolescents.

Mood changes: Some individuals may experience mood swings or feelings of depression while taking melatonin, which can affect overall mental well-being.

Digestive issues: Melatonin can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including nausea, cramping, or diarrhea in some users.

Headaches: A common side effect of melatonin is headaches, which can vary in intensity and affect daily functioning.

Vivid dreams or nightmares: Melatonin can alter the sleep cycle, leading to unusually vivid dreams or nightmares, which may disturb sleep quality.

Interaction with medications: Melatonin can interact with various medications, including blood thinners and immunosuppressants, potentially altering their effectiveness and causing adverse effects.

Allergic reactions: Although rare, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to melatonin, such as skin rashes, itching, or swelling.

Over-the-counter remedies (antihistamines) for insomnia 

There are a whole range of over-the-counter medications, such as Chlorphenamine (known by the brand name Piriton), which is a popular over-the-counter antihistamine used to treat hay fever and insect bites, and also used as a sleep remedy due to it making you feel drowsy. In rare cases it can cause allergic responses and may interact with other drugs, particularly some antidepressants. 

Diphenhydramine, another sleep-inducing antihistamine, is found in products such as Nytol. Like chlorphenamine, it can cause drowsiness and has similar potential side effects. 

Side effects of antihistamines for sleep 

Daytime drowsiness: Just like sleeping pills and melatonin, the sedative effects of antihistamines can persist into the next day, resulting in drowsiness or impaired alertness, potentially affecting activities like driving.

Cognitive impairment: Antihistamines may cause confusion, reduced mental sharpness and memory problems, increasing the risk of accidents and impairing daily functioning.

Dry mouth and throat: Antihistamines often cause dry mouth and throat, leading to discomfort and an increased risk of dental issues over time.

Constipation: These medications can slow down the digestive system, causing constipation and related gastrointestinal discomfort.

Urinary retention: Antihistamines may lead to difficulty urinating, particularly in older adults, which can cause discomfort and other complications.

Blurred vision: Some individuals may experience blurred vision, which can affect their ability to perform tasks requiring clear sight.

Dependence: Regular use of antihistamines for sleep can lead to psychological dependence, making it difficult to sleep without them.

Tolerance: Over time, the body can build up a tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines, reducing their effectiveness and potentially leading to increased dosage.

Heart palpitations: In some cases, antihistamines can cause an irregular heartbeat or palpitations, which can be concerning and uncomfortable.

Allergic reactions: Though uncommon, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to antihistamines, such as skin rashes, itching, or swelling.

So what’s the solution? Is there a way of naturally boosting our body’s melatonin levels without any nasty side effects?

In short, yes!

Sleepee - the revolutionary sleep supplement 

As well as helping your circadian rhythm by dimming all lights at home and avoiding screens for two hours before bed (too much artificial light can reduce the production of melatonin in your brain), you can take an all-natural sleep supplement with ingredients that naturally boost your body’s melatonin. 

Have you heard of the miracle ingredient montmorency cherry? Together with vitamin B6 it naturally turbo-boosts your body’s melatonin levels - no chemicals or artificial nasties needed! This helps you fall into a deeper sleep and prevents wake-ups during the night. 

Sleepee supplements are specially formulated to aid a restful night’s sleep, using all-natural ingredients.

 The benefits:

  • Fall asleep faster
  • Calm your busy anxious mind
  • Wake up feeling refreshed
  • Sleep deeper for longer
  • Know that you’re not putting any artificial chemicals into your body
  • Long-term solution 
  • Totally safe
  • Totally legal

Sleepee is a long-term solution; you can take them night after night to help you feel delightfully dozy and drift off into a peaceful slumber. Sweet (natural!) dreams!

Using sleep aids safely

Regardless of the type of sleep aid you opt for, taking precautions is essential.

Stick to the recommended dosage: Only consume the prescribed dose at the designated time. Refrain from taking an additional dose overnight unless instructed by your physician, even if your sleep troubles persist.

Prioritise sleep hygiene: Incorporate good sleep practices alongside any sleep aids you use.

Ensure ample sleep duration: Allocate a minimum of 7 hours for sleep after taking a sleep aid to minimise the risk of morning grogginess.

Avoid combining sleep aids with other substances: Mixing sedative sleep aids with alcohol, other sedatives, or recreational drugs may lead to serious complications.

Seek guidance from your doctor: Collaborating with your healthcare provider can mitigate the risk of unwanted side effects or drug interactions, safeguarding your well-being.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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