Can a Pill Really Help You Sleep Tonight?

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.  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Check out SnoreLab App 1 Documents snoring Level & Length
    2 Allows user to enter conditions that may have effected sleep

  • My wife was prescribed stilnox at a 5-10 mg level. Without it she suffers from sleeplessness during the night.
    Thank you for the sleep level app on the Fitbit we find the analysis and these sort of articles really supportive
    Any further advice to get off stilnox???

  • I take an half a pill (lowest dose) of Ambien when I wake up middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep or when I have a difficult time falling asleep. It usually helps falling asleep and give me 2-4 hours sleep.It happens less than once a week, sometimes once a month. Is this a good way to help occasional problem? Thanks for your answer.

  • It would be very helpful if you would allow Fitbit users to be able to print these articles. I wanted to print and study all the info later and be able to refer to it in the future.

  • I find that if I wake up early…if I take a cap of l-theanine…I can usually fall back to sleep and can get more deep sleep than usual. When I get more deep sleep I usually feel more rested.

    Cannot seem to take it all the time as it can make me “goofy” and less focused over time. L-theanine is an amino acid in tea leaves.

    • Bob — which type of L-theanine do you take? Such as what brand and how much? I am very much interested in natural supplements rather than medications. Thanks in advance!

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