Popping a sleeping pill seems like the ideal solution to your nightly tossing and turning. Unfortunately, when it comes to sleep, like most things in life, there is no magic bullet or medicine. Although it may be okay to talk to your doctor about taking one in the short term, “sleep aids are not meant for long-term use,” says Fitbit sleep advisor Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “Many aren’t effective or useful, so the most negative impact will be on your wallet.”
The Truth About Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids
Some over-the-counter sleep aids are simply just antihistamines (like for allergies). They make you drowsy at night, but they can also cause next-day sleepiness which can lead to mood, memory, and other brain-related problems. It can also be a safety hazard if you need to do certain activities like drive. Other sleep aids have active ingredients that can cause various reactions if used long term, depending on the amount and which one you’re using. “There is also some evidence that chronic over-the-counter sleep medicine use can increase the risk of problematic cardiovascular events over time,” adds Grandner.
Melatonin Won’t Put You to Sleep
But what about melatonin, a supplement that many people think is healthier because it’s a naturally occurring hormone in the body? “Melatonin is a clock shifter—it’s not a sleep inducer,” explains Grandner. “It works by modifying your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Finding the dose and timing for melatonin that are effective for you is very tricky.” Importantly, sleep aids don’t get to the root of your problem—i.e. why you aren’t sleeping. Instead, they just focus on the symptom—that you are not sleeping well.
The bottom line: Don’t randomly prescribe yourself a sleep aid or supplement. Instead, talk to your doctor to see if a sleep aid is a good option for you.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.