What Is the Best Sleep Aid?

Medically Reviewed on 5/13/2021
sleep aids
Over-the-counter sleep aids may help you sleep better

Getting a good night’s sleep is extremely important for your health. Sleep can improve your memory, concentration and critical thinking skills. It can even boost your mood and help you avoid psychological issues like anxiety and depression

More importantly, sleep helps your body function properly in repairing cells and tissues. Lack of sleep can lead to physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Despite the fact that sleep is so critical to our health, close to 50% of people in the U.S. suffer from occasional insomnia. It generally affects women more than men, and is more commonly seen in people over 65. While persistent insomnia requires medical treatment, most people just need a little extra help to get decent sleep. But what options do you have?

What are over-the-counter sleep aid options?

While over-the-counter sleep aids may be effective here and there, you should be aware that much remains unknown about their safety and effectiveness. Over-the-counter supplements include:


Melatonin is a hormone your body produces naturally and signals to your brain when it is time to sleep. It helps to regulate and maintain the sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). If you are struggling to get quality sleep or if you are suffering from jet lag, melatonin supplements may help. Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and before giving melatonin to children or elderly people.

Valerian root

Valerian root is an herb commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. It promotes sleep by increasing levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which has a calming effect on the body and helps it relax. The herb can also shorten the time it takes to fall asleep. Valerian root can be consumed as a tea, or as an extract or tablet.


Magnesium is a mineral that plays a crucial role in regulating sleep, mood, heart health, bone health and metabolism. Similar to valerian root, it promotes sleep by increasing the GABA levels in your body. Aside from supplements, magnesium can also be naturally consumed in foods such as nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, avocado and dairy products. 


Chamomile, which is a popular herbal tea, has a calming effect and can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also reduce inflammation in the body. 


Commonly marketed under the brand name Benadryl, diphenhydramine is generally recommended for short-term use to manage a lack of sleep. It may cause daytime sleepiness, so avoid driving and operating heavy machinery while using it.


Sleep Disorders: Foods That Help Sleep or Keep You Awake See Slideshow

Can I get better sleep through lifestyle changes?

Not everyone needs sleeping aids, and you may want to avoid the potential side effects of over-the-counter supplements. Some people benefit from just making a few lifestyle changes, including:

  • Getting in and out of your bed at the same time every day
  • Avoiding the use of electronic devices at least 1 hour before sleep
  • Wearing comfortable clothes before going to bed
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks at least 4 hours before bedtime
  • Avoiding alcohol a few hours before bedtime
  • Avoiding a heavy dinner
  • Having dinner at least 2-3 hours before going to bed
  • Keeping the room at a comfortable temperature

Talk to your doctor about prescription sleeping pills

If none of the options above help, you should consult with your doctor. They can assess whether you have underlying health conditions that may be interfering with your sleep. As a last resort, they may prescribe sleeping pills such as:

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 5/13/2021
Pacheco D. Over the Counter Sleep Aids. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-medications/otc-sleep-aids

Choosing Wisely. Insomnia and Anxiety in Older People. https://www.choosingwisely.org/patient-resources/treating-insomnia-and-anxiety-in-older-people/