Sleep Medications


Prescription, OTC sleep medications, and herbal supplements can help to relieve insomnia, but it takes time to find out which option works the best for you. Our article below discusses the best medications for sleep.


Do you feel afraid to go to the bed because you think you will end up tossing and turning in an attempt to sleep? Well, you are not alone with such fear. Sleep problems, most notably insomnia, are a national health problem in the US. According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of US adults are not getting enough sleep.

Insomnia, also called sleeplessness, is a common sleep disorder that is characterized by having difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep. Insomnia increases the risk of many health disorders including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. In addition, having sleep problems can put you at a greater risk of motor vehicle accidents and mishandling of machines at work. 

For some people with insomnia, lifestyle changes and non-pharmacological interventions can provide the relief. However, if the problem persists and negatively impairs your health and performance at work or school, your doctor may prescribe or recommend some sleep medications (hypnotics). 

 In this article, you will get insight into the 3 best prescription sleep medications to treat insomnia. Also, you will learn what other non-prescription medications and herbal supplements are available. 

Prescription Sleep Medications

A class of medications called benzodiazepines (or benzos) has been widely used to treat insomnia. But their use is declining primarily due to two reasons. First, they can be addictive and lead to withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. Second, newer benzodiazepine-like agents, zolpidem, and zaleplon are associated with fewer side effects and yet have comparable efficacy. 

In the following section, we will discuss newer prescription sleep medications, their general doses and precautions to take.  

Zolpidem ( Brands: Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo)

Ambien BottleZolpidem is a newer sleep medication that works to induce as well as maintain the sleep. The effect depends on the type of the formulation you take. Immediate-release forms induce sleep while the extended-release form, Ambien CR, helps you fall asleep and also maintains it for a certain duration. Moreover, doctors can prescribe zolpidem for the patients who have interrupted sleep and have trouble getting back to sleep again. 

General Dose

The normal dose of Zolpidem immediate-release tablet, oral spray, and sublingual tablet to treat insomnia in adults is 5 mg for women and 5 or 10 mg for men. 

The dose of controlled/extended-release tablet is 6.25 mg (for women) or 6.25 mg or 12.5 mg (for men). 

The dose of the sublingual tablet is 1.75 mg for women or 3.5 mg for men. 

Precautions to Take

The US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) warns that patients taking Ambien CR should not involve in any activity that requires alertness such as driving or operating a machine. Pregnant women should avoid taking zolpidem. However, those women who breastfeed can take it without exercising any specific precautions. 

Eszopiclone (Brand: Lunesta):

Lunesta ResizeLunesta helps to induce sleep by balancing chemicals in the brain. With Lunesta, you can expect to get seven to eight hours of sleep. 

General Dose

The general adult dose is 1 mg per day right before going to sleep. 

Precautions to Take

Since the medication impairs your ability to think and make decisions, take extra precautions while driving or operating a machine that requires alertness. If you think you are not mentally fit for the activity, avoid doing it. Consult your doctor before taking Lunesta if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Ramelteon (Brand: Rozerem)

Ramelteon is a non-habit forming sleep medication. Doctors prescribe it for the patients who have difficulty falling asleep. It works by regulating your sleep-wake cycle rather slowing down the brain functions. 

General Dose

 The general adult dose is 8 mg taken within 30 minutes before going to sleep.

Precautions to Take

Do not take it shortly after a high-fat meal and with an antidepressant medication Luvox. Stop taking the medication and consult your right away if you engage in some activities while under the influence of ramelteon of which you have no memory the following day. 

If you are pregnant or nursing a child, take ramelteon only when absolutely necessary. In fact, your doctor will decide if the benefits outweigh the potential risks. 

Some insomniacs may take OTC medications or herbal supplements to treat insomnia before reaching out to the doctors. While you may think such practice is a primary approach to treating insomnia, you should always take care of a few things before trying out a new compound or herb. That way, you will be able to reduce the risk of unwanted drug reactions and potential complications. 

(OTC) Sleep Medications

Diphenhydramine (Brand: Benadryl and Unisom SleepGels)

Diphenhydramine is an anti-allergic medication that you can purchase without a prescription. People use it to promote sleep. So, it is also called a sleeping aid. 

Diphenhydramine is available in the form of tablet, capsule, and liquid. While it does not necessarily induce sleep, it can increase the chances of falling asleep by increasing sedation and causing relaxation. 

Doxylamine (Brand: Unisom SleepTabs)

Like diphenhydramine, doxylamine is an anti-allergic medication which promotes sleep by causing sedation. 

Common Herbs/Supplements


Valerian RootValerian is an herb that allegedly promotes sleep. You can purchase valerian products from a nearby pharmacy. Note that valerian is a dietary supplement. That said, the manufacturers do not have to prove its efficacy before the US FDA. 

Nonetheless, a number of animal studies have shown that different valerian constituents can relieve the symptoms of insomnia. Children younger than 3 years and women who are pregnant or nursing a child should not take valerian. 


Natural melatonin is a hormone that regulates body’s biological clock, also called sleep-awake cycle. The secretion of melatonin is high during the nights and low during the day. For this reason, we remain active during the days and sleep during the nights. Disruption in the secretion of melatonin may cause sleep problems. 

Studies suggest taking a melatonin supplement may help to promote sleep and enhance the quality of sleep. You can get melatonin in two forms, immediate-release and extended-release. The former is suitable if you have difficulty falling asleep. On the other hand, the extended-release forms are suitable for those who wake up in the middle of the night.  

You may consider taking a valerian or melatonin supplement to treat insomnia. But it is always a wise decision to consult your doctor before using any dietary or natural supplements.