Up All Night? These Are The Best Sleep Aids You Can Buy Without A Prescription

Bustle / Amazon

A good night’s sleep is super important for your health. But sometimes, it can be a real challenge to get the rest that’s needed. Luckily, the best over the counter sleep aids may be able to help. “Sleep aids may improve sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), duration of sleep, and sleep quality,” Lindsey Elmore, PharmD, BCPS, told Bustle in an interview.

Active Ingredients

Most over the counter (OTC) sleep aids contain antihistamines, and the two most common active ingredients are diphenhydramine and doxylamine. Bill Fish, co-founder of Tuck Sleep, told Bustle that while these ingredients are similar, there are some differences you should be aware of. “Diphenhydramine [...] is the more popular active ingredient in OTC sleep aids,” he explained. “This is partially due because it is less expensive, but also because it leaves your system more quickly, thus reducing the chances of that drowsy feeling the next morning.”

Doxylamine has its benefits as well. According to Fish, it is stronger at sedating the sleeper, and also stays in the body longer — aka you may be able to sleep longer if you opt for a sleeping pill that contains this active ingredient.

If you prefer a more natural way to induce sleep, the sleep hormone melatonin is also commonly found in sleep aids. Your body naturally produces this hormone, but if your cycle is disrupted (by a long haul flight, for example), a melatonin supplement may be beneficial.

How To Take Sleep Aids

While sleep aids are certainly meant to help, these products should only be used on a short-term basis (and make sure you consult your doctor before starting them). If you find that your sleep issues last longer than two weeks, it’s important to see your physician to determine the underlying cause of your sleeplessness.

Oh and if you don’t want to take a sleep aid that contains antihistamines or melatonin, there are other ways to nab a good night’s rest.

Get ready to catch some zzz's — these four OTC sleep aids have helped thousands of people fall asleep fast and stay asleep longer.

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The Overall Best Sleep Aid Pill With Diphenhydramine

These ZzzQuil sleep pills each contain 50 mg of the non-habit-forming ingredient diphenhydramine to help you get a good night’s rest. Each dose (two capsules) can help you fall asleep in as little as 20 minutes. And many Amazon reviewers report that ZzzQuil allows them to wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and non-groggy. They give this pick an impressive 4.4-star rating among 1,300 and growing reviews.

Enthusiastic Amazon review: "Been looking for a good sleep aid for a while but had problems with some of them not providing enough strength and making me feel drowsy the next day. However the Zzquil has made it much easier for me to fall asleep so much faster while feeling well rested the next day. Would definitely recommend!!!"

NOTE: Children under the age of 12 should not take ZzzQuil.


The Overall Best Sleep Aid Pill With Doxylamine

With more than 1,800 reviews on Amazon and a 4.4-star rating overall, it’s clear that this Basic Care sleep aid has been helpful for many people. The sleep aid contains 25 mg of the active ingredient doxylamine succinate. Take one tablet 30 minutes before bed, and you’ll soon drift off into a peaceful slumber.

Enthusiastic Amazon review: "High anxiety has been keeping me from falling asleep lately. Been a bit of a nightmare for me... So I ordered these, and popped a whole one last night. The anxiety fought valiantly, but it ultimately lost. The most sleep I've gotten in a week quickly followed."

NOTE: These sleep aids should only be used for children and adults 12 years and older.


A Sleep Aid For People Who Need Pain Relief

If minor aches and pains are disrupting your sleep, then Advil PM might be your best option for relief. The dual purpose product contains ibuprofen to help with pain and diphenhydramine to help with sleep. Take two of the coated caplets right at bedtime, and you’ll be on your way to a good night’s rest. Amazon reviewers are certainly pleased with this pick; they give it a standout 4.7-star rating, among 699 and growing reviews.

Enthusiastic Amazon review: "I find the Advil PM works better for me than other PM brands. These ease my aches and pains while allowing me to relax, become drowsy and get a full night's sleep."

NOTE: Advil PM is only intended for ages 12 and up.


A Sleep Aid With Melatonin

If you’re looking for a more natural way to get some zzz’s, this Carlyle sleep aid contains 12 mg of the natural sleep hormone melatonin to help. Plus, it is free of common allergens like gluten, lactose, milk, and yeast, and also has no artificial flavors or preservatives. With more than 5,200 reviews on Amazon and a 4.4-star rating overall, reviewers are pleased with the fact that this natural option helps them to fall asleep quickly and wake up free of grogginess.

The sleep aid is super easy to use. Place one berry-flavored tablet in your mouth 30 minutes before bed and it will quickly dissolve, no swallowing required. The manufacturer recommends starting with half a tablet first to see how it makes you feel before increasing your dose to a whole tablet.

Enthusiastic Amazon review: "I needed some help to calm my mind at bedtime. My doctor suggested I try this so I ordered some to give it a try. I am very pleased with how it is working. I just take one tablet about 30 min. before I lay down. I can feel it working and Im ready to rest nicely. I don't wake up feeling groggy either. I would recommend this for someone looking for a natural product to help them sleep better."


Lindsey Elmore, PharmD, BCPS

Bill Fish, co-founder of Tuck Sleep