Sleep Aids

Monday, 13 November 2006 | Tags: , ,

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you may be suffering from insomnia. When non-medicinal remedies like warm milk, soothing music, or counting sheep still donít work, you might consider an over-the-counter sleep aid. We find out more about these sleep-inducing drugs.

The Basics

  • Before turning to sleep-aids, examine your sleep habits. Generally, if you make changes to your lifestyle, you may be able to solve the problem without drugs, which is better for your overall health.

  • Along with the help of your doctor, you can choose from these various sleep-aids:

    • Antihistamines (found in allergy medications) have the active ingredient diphenhydramine hydrochloride, which blocks brain chemicals that normally keep us alert. The main drawback is impairment equivalent to a .05 blood alcohol reading (legal is .08) for as long as 14 hours after.

    • Dimenhydrinate is the active ingredient in Gravol, which is used for nausea. Similar to antihistamines, they can result in a hangover effect and shouldn’t be used for extended periods of time.

    • Tryptophan helps restore serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps to regulate appetite, mood, pain levels and sleep. Tryptophan is naturally found in warm milk and turkey.

    • Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your body’s pineal gland when it gets dark. As melatonin production rises, you begin to feel less alert. Melatonin levels drop in the morning or when there’s a light source. It’s available OTC to supplement natural productions and help induce sleep. It’s currently illegal to sell in Canada, and the US products are not well-regulated.

    • Valerian is an herbal remedy found in plant roots. It works like Valium and is most commonly recommended because it’s not considered addictive and there are no hangover effects.

Other Considerations

  • Insomnia due to medical conditions (e.g. depression, arthritis, cancer or heartburn) or medication should be handled by your doctor.

  • Reducing stimulants like alcohol, sugar, and caffeine before bedtime can improve your chances of sleep.

  • Sleeping in complete darkness can also help produce melatonin, which is your body’s natural sleep trigger. If there’s too much light in your bedroom, your body will not produce enough to make or keep you asleep.

  • Both chamomile and lavender have been proven to have weak sedative effects, especially as chamomile tea or a lavender oil bath.

Be Aware

  • Do not buy products that contain gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB). They have been shown to cause serious side effects, including death.


We recruited some insomniacs to help us test these sleep-aids:

Our test products: .  
  • Melatonin Capsules: $4.40/20 pills
. . Well.ca Drugstore.com
  • Simply Sleep (antihistamine): $5.99/20 pills
. . Well.ca Drugstore.com
  • Nytol Natural (valerian): $7.49/20 pills
. . Well.ca
  • 5-HTP (hydroxyl-tryptophan): $10/20 pills
. . Well.ca Drugstore.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Sleep Test

  • One tester awoke a few hours after taking the 5-HTP with a massive headache, but it worked great for another tester, leaving no hangover effect.

  • No one liked the Melatonin. Some troubling side-effects arose for one tester (shortness of breath and a racing heart beat), and though he was out cold within 20 minutes, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

  • Another tester felt rested with the Simply Sleep and didn’t experience that sleepy, hung-over feeling in the morning.

  • Everyone else got the best sleep with the Nytol Natural, containing valerian.


Nytol Natural provided the best sleep for our majority. It was easy to get to sleep and stay asleep, and we felt fresh in the morning. Plus, valerian is a natural remedy recommended by sleep experts.



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