Q: What over-the-counter products can help me sleep at night?


A: I get this question a lot. Many people who struggle with some form of insomnia have spent time in the grocery store comparing over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids. So, are they safe? Do they actually work? Which one is best?

Let’s take a look at some of the different OTC products that promote sleep.

Antihistamines: If you’re not suffering from congestion or cough, you may be trading some zzz’s for dry mouth, blurry vision, constipation and even trouble urinating. According to, “…taken for allergies and as a sleep aid, diphenhydramine (in Benadryl and Excedrin PM) also has anticholinergic effects.” Anticholinergic drugs have been linked to “brain fog,” with some research suggesting a possible increased risk of dementia with continued use.

Melatonin: A synthetic version of a hormone produced naturally by your body, melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle. According to WebMD, OTC melatonin can be helpful with certain kinds of sleep problems, especially for night owls who have a hard time falling asleep, or for people with jet lag. Side effects of melatonin can be headache, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness.

Valerian: Valerian is an herb that has been used since the Middle Ages to combat insomnia. How it works is not exactly clear. It appears to act on brain receptors to slow down the nervous system and make you drowsy. Reported side effects are few, other than drowsiness and dizziness.

CBD/cannabidiol: CBD is a derivative of the cannabis plant and comes in multiple forms, including pills, edibles, patches and creams. In studies, CBD has been shown to relieve anxiety (a common reason people have trouble falling asleep) and is now often used as a treatment for insomnia.

Keep in mind, daytime grogginess can occur with ALL the OTC sleep aids. And as reminds us, “The safety and efficacy of supplements is not closely monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

Over-the-counter sleep aids for insomnia are generally safe. But products taken night after night may lose effectiveness or, in the case of antihistamines, have side effects like blurred vision, confusion and constipation that can be problematic for older adults. As I always tell my clients, talk to your pharmacist or physician first, to ensure your sleep aid of choice does not interact with your prescribed medications.

Join me Friday, December 8th for a fun change of pace during the next Senior Health Friday with Nurse Lisa– when we’ll learn from a chef how to decorate holiday cookies. RSVP online at or call 321-751-6771.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging. Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse, Certified Dementia Practitioner and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera. Ms. Conway hosts a monthly seminar, ‘Senior Health Friday with Nurse Lisa.’