Last updated: July 23. 2014 2:34PM - 310 Views
By Alyssa Davis Contributing columnist PharmD, RPh



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If you have counted hundreds of sheep at bedtime and you still cannot fall asleep, you might suffer from insomnia. Insomnia may include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, or not feeling well rested in the morning. There are several factors that may trigger insomnia, such as anxiety, stress, changes in your environment or schedule, using caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, or taking certain medications such as decongestants (like Sudafed) and steroids (like Prednisone.)


If you are unable to get a good night’s sleep, you might experience irritability, anxiety, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. In order to feel your best, it is important to return to your proper sleep schedule.


There are a few measures to try before turning to medication. If you have insomnia, you should avoid napping during the day. Before going to sleep, try to relax and clear your mind of any stress. Avoid stimulating activities before bed, like exercising. Also, keeping your bedroom cool and dark may help you sleep better. That means turning off the TV or any lights in the bedroom before going to sleep!


If these measures do not put you to sleep, there are a few over the counter medications that you can try. The most common medications used to treat insomnia include Unisom, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Vicks ZzzQuil, and Melatonin. Most OTC medications should be taken 30-60 minutes before bedtime and only taken as needed.


There are certain reasons to choose one medication over another. If the insomnia is due to uncontrolled pain, Tylenol PM or Advil PM would be good options. If insomnia is due to a shift change at work, Melatonin would be a good option to regulate your sleep schedule. If there isn’t an underlying condition that you know of, Unisom would be a good option to try on a short term basis.


Side effects that you might see from OTC sleep aids include morning grogginess, dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision. It is important to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until you know how sleepy the medicine will make you. It is also important to avoid alcohol while taking these sleep aids. If you have prostate problems, difficulty urinating, or glaucoma, you shouldn’t take these medications.


Individuals with insomnia who are younger than 12 years or older than 65 years, pregnant, breastfeeding, or who have other medical conditions should talk to their doctor before starting a sleep aid. Sleep aids are meant for short term use. If you need the sleep aid for more than ten days with no relief, talk to your doctor. If you have any questions or need help selecting the best sleep aid for you, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.


(Alyssa Davis is a PharmD, RPh currently at Clinton Drug.)


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