Understanding Types Of Sleep Aid

There are a variety Sleep Aids available to suit a range of different needs. The following are four of the most popular types.


Diphenhydramine hydrochloride is the active ingredient in products available without prescription in the UK. It is one of a number of medicines called antihistamines that have been used for many years to treat allergies.

It was discovered that some antihistamines, including diphenhydramine, have sedative properties. This means it can be safely used to help with temporary sleep disturbance, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Diphenhydramine reduces the time needed to fall asleep and increases the depth and quality of sleep.

Who can take it? Diphenhydramine can be taken by adults and children over 16. You should not take it if you are pregnant, and you should check with a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking other medications, particularly anything for allergies or coughs & colds (which may contain other antihistamines).

How do I take it? The usual dose is 50mg, which you take around 20 minutes before bedtime. This gives the medicine time to work so that you fall asleep as soon as possible after going to bed.

You can take diphenhydramine for up to two weeks, allowing your sleep problems to resolve. If you feel you need to take it for longer than two weeks, you should consult a doctor.

Does it have any side effects? Possible side effects include dry mouth, dizziness and drowsiness in the daytime, constipation or difficulty urinating. If you experience these or any troubling symptoms, you should consult a doctor or pharmacist.



Melatonin is a hormone occurring naturally in your body. It has a daily cycle, with the amount produced increasing during the night and returning to lower levels during the day.

Our bodies respond partly to levels of daylight when producing melatonin, so we naturally feel more sleepy when it’s dark and more awake when it’s light. If the natural stimuli affecting our melatonin balance are disrupted, this can be why some people experience difficulties with sleeping.

Taking synthetic melatonin can help to restore the body’s natural hormone rhythms, and for this reason, it is a popular remedy for jet lag.

Who can take it? Melatonin can be taken by adults over 18 who are experiencing sleep problems. Clinical studies have shown that taking melatonin at bedtime significantly reduces the symptoms of jet lag by re-synchronising the natural daily rhythm of hormone production.

How do I take it? Melatonin should be taken at your usual bedtime, usually between 10pm and midnight and not before 8pm or after 4am. This ensures that your body can also respond to daylight and darkness.

It takes around 1 to 2 hours to work, and it is preferable to take it 2 hours after and at least 2 hours before food for maximum effect. If necessary, you can normally take melatonin for up to 13 weeks, and some people may need it for longer than this.

Herbal sleep remedies can interact with melatonin, so you should not take any of these at the same time.

Does it have side effects? Some people may experience tiredness, nausea or headache after taking melatonin, but generally, it is well tolerated.



Doxylamine succinate is another antihistamine with sedative properties, including drowsiness and sedation. Like diphenhydramine, it can be used to help with symptoms of allergies, so you should check with a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any allergy medicines.

Who can take it? Doxylamine can be used by adults and children over the age of 12. It is not advisable to take it when pregnant or breastfeeding, and you should not drink alcohol as this can increase the sedative effects of the medicine.

How do I take it? The usual dose of doxylamine for sleep problems is one 25mg tablet, taken around 30 minutes before bedtime. You can usually take doxylamine for up to two weeks, after which you should consult a doctor if you feel that you need to continue. Doxylamine has not been shown to have any addictive properties.

Are there any side effects? Like other antihistamines, doxylamine can cause dry mouth, dizziness, constipation or blurred vision. Most side effects are mild and short-lived, and serious side effects are rare.


Valerian is a herbal remedy that can be bought over the counter in shops and online. It may be provided on its own or in combination with other herbal elements such as passion flower, hops, lavender and chamomile.

Valerian is a tall perennial herb with pink or white flowers, native to Europe and parts of Asia. The root extract has been used as a traditional remedy for sleep problems at least as far back as ancient Greek and Roman times. It is considered to have anti-anxiety as well as sedative effects.

Who can take it? Valerian can be taken by adults and children experiencing sleep problems. You should be careful when giving valerian to children and seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist if they are taking any other herbal remedies or medicines.

Alcohol should be avoided when taking any sleep aids as it can affect how they work. If you are taking any medicines that cause drowsiness, such as antihistamines, you should consult your doctor before taking valerian.

How should I take it? As valerian is a herbal remedy there is no specific dose, however, sleep aid products generally contain up to 600mg of valerian root extract, to be taken 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime.

It can be used safely for up to 6 weeks at this dose and may be used for longer, but if used long-term, it should be withdrawn gradually over a week or two. If you are taking valerian combined with other herbs in a single tablet, you should follow the instructions provided.

Are there any side effects? Valerian is usually well tolerated but may produce side effects, including headache, dizziness, stomach upset, diarrhoea, mental dullness or vivid dreams.