Sleep aids

Over-the-counter products are short-term solutions, but there are other ways to improve sleep.
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  • Updated:9 Jan 2005


The other option for over-the-counter sleep aid products is antihistamines like promethazine and doxylamine.

While these may send some people off to sleep, they can have the opposite effect on others. Antihistamines can also have side effects, most notoriously drowsiness or a hangover effect the next day. They may affect your work or ability to drive a car.

Antihistamines can interact with other medications, including certain kinds of anti-depressant and prescription hypnotics. People with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, glaucoma and epilepsy, shouldn’t use them. Always tell your pharmacist about any medical condition you have or medication you’re taking, including complementary preparations, before using Pharmacy Only medication.

If you decide to try them, they’re only recommended for short-term use. As with all sleep aid products, if you don’t improve see a doctor, as insomnia could be an indication of an underlying medical problem.

Antihistamines aren’t recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It’s not known how safe they are for children under 12, and some children become hyperactive on them. Always get a copy of the relevant Consumer Medicine Information from your pharmacist and ask about anything you don’t understand.

Some experts think that even though antihistamines may be acceptable during acute (short-term) insomnia, if medication is required it’s preferable to have a doctor prescribe the appropriate drugs. Although it’s easier to buy antihistamines over-the-counter, seeing a doctor is useful as they may be able to advise on other ways to combat insomnia. And prescribed medication for insomnia may be more effective, because, as one expert told us, “Antihistamines are worse than prescribed drugs because people’s reactions to them are varied.”

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