pills of various sizes, shapes, and colours (white, blue, red, and yellow) some of which are over the counter sleeping pills

Melatonin – The Most Overrated and Misunderstood ‘Sleeping Pill

Melatonin is probably one of the first ‘natural sleep aid solutions’ you came across when you began your research to treat insomnia, besides sleeping pills.

It’s a naturally occurring hormone from your pineal gland. When released in your body, you get sleepy. Melatonin levels are elevated for about 12 hours starting around 8-9pm, and are undetectable during the day. 

However, it is important to note that melatonin is NOT a natural sleeping pill or some miracle pill. It is more like a signal to your body to prepare for sleep. Melatonin is effective with combating jet lag, or in minor cases of insomnia where sleep is delayed by an hour or less. However, there is no evidence to suggest melatonin helps chronic insomnia1.

It can also have side effects including headache, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness. Other side effects, though less common, are feelings of depression, confusion, increased anxiety, and abnormally low blood pressure2

Melatonin can interact with many different medications, including diabetes medication, contraceptive drugs, immunosuppressants and more3

Some physicians worry that taking melatonin can reduce your ability to produce it naturally, however short term studies have shown no such effects4. No long term studies have been conducted to prove or disprove this concern.

You can find it in grocery and drugs stores, normally in a dose of 3mg though I HIGHLY RECOMMEND speaking with a pharmacist or doctor if you are taking any medications to confirm there will not be any harmful interactions with melatonin. 

Over the Counter Sleeping Pills

Everyone who reached for over the counter (OTC) sleeping pills when they first couldn’t sleep, say “I”! I know that was my first course of action after not sleeping for six weeks. 

There are two (at least in Canada) OTC pills you’ll find:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, TylenolPM, ZzzQuil)
  • Doxylamine succinate (Unisom, Nyquil) 

These types of pills don’t cause a dependency in the physical sense, but they can cause a psychological dependency by thinking you need to take them to sleep5. They don’t treat the underlying anxiety around sleep so they don’t do much for chronic insomnia.

Plus, the longer you take them, the less effective they’ll be. Though according to Harvard Health, there is no long-term data on the side effects of sleeping pills other than causing confusion and dizziness in seniors6

My goal is for you to sleep without the assistance of any pills. However, it takes time — and effort — to change your habits and attitudes around sleep. So in some cases, a combination of sleep medication along with therapeutic self analysis is necessary. 

If you are currently taking OTC pills and feel a psychological dependency, I encourage you to talk to your doctor to see if they are right for you. 

Prescription Sleeping Pills

Prescription sleeping pills come in many forms, and have many names including:

  • Ambien, Ambien CR (zolpidem tartrate)
  • Xanax (Alprazolam)
  • Dalmane (flurazepam hydrochloride)
  • Sublinox (Zolpidem)
  • Ativan (Lorazopam)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Prosom (estazolam)
  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Rozerem (ramelteon)
  • Silenor (doxepin)
  • Halcion (triazolam)

I completely understand the need to turn to prescription drugs to sleep. Sublinox was prescribed to me in the strongest dose (20mg) but didn’t take it. The side effects were revealed to me.

Instead, I took far too many Ativans, to the point where they were no longer effective.  

The goal of this program is to not have to take anything to get to sleep. However, I encourage you to continue taking what was prescribed to you and eventually lighten your dose:

  • when you are ready, and
  • under the care of your doctor

A lot of these drugs can be addictive and have withdrawal symptoms that need to be monitored by a physician.