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Studies Find Most Sleeping Pills Completely Worthless

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Did you know that most over-the-counter medication for insomnia is not backed by scientific research? In fact, you'll have the same amount of luck taking your allergy medication before bed- because the pills contain the same ingredients. Find out why sleeping pills are ineffective and what you can do to really stop insomnia below.

A survey from the National Sleep Foundation found that about 54 percent of Americans have difficulty falling asleep, waking early, waking multiple times at night, or waking without feeling refreshed. 33 percent of survey participants stated that they experienced insomnia nearly every night.

It’s not surprising that insomnia is such a large problem in the current American lifestyle. After all, the modern lifestyle encourages people to stay up late, sleep less, and engage in activities that interfere with effective sleep. Most Americans get fewer than the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night.

Unfortunately, insomnia can have some deadly side effects like an increased risk for heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and even cancer. Due to our chronic sleep problems, many may turn to over-the-counter sleep aids for help.

According to the National Sleep Foundation survey, about 20 percent of Americans have taken over-the-counter sleep aids at some point. But what if the so-called “sleep aids” actually do nothing to promote sleep?

According to recent studies, that is the truth. In fact, what you see sold over-the-counter as sleep medication is simply rebranded and repackaged allergy and cold medicine. Will this help you sleep better? Hardly. Find out more about the studies on over-the-counter sleep aids, their dangerous side effects, and actual methods you can use to cure insomnia below.

Ingredients in Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids

It may surprise you, but most over-the-counter sleep aids don’t actually contain a special formula or drug for curing insomnia. In fact, most sleep medications you can pick up at the drugstore are simply antihistamines. Many antihistamines include drowsiness as a side effect, which is why pharmaceutical companies repackage the same drugs for use in sleeping pills.

In fact, most over-the-counter sleeping pills contain either diphenhydramine (commonly seen in the allergy medication Benadryl) or doxylamine (found in other allergy medications). According to a review of sleep-aid studies from Duke University, only two studies have ever looked at the effects of doxylamine and diphenhydramine on nighttime sleepiness. Most of the other studies have looked at the effects of the medication during the day when drowsiness is often a side effect.

What did the two studies find about the effectiveness of these medications for insomnia? Find out below.

In the first study, researchers looked at how 50 mg of diphenhydramine compared with a placebo pill in 20 elderly people with insomnia symptoms. The study found that individuals who took the diphenhydramine had fewer night awakenings, but no easier time falling asleep or increased sleep duration, or any improvement in the quality of their sleep.

In the second study, 25 mg of diphenhydramine was tested against placebo pills and a mixture of valerian and hops in 184 participants with mild insomnia. Compared to the placebo pill, it was found that diphenhydramine improved how much time people spent sleeping in bed according to participant reports, but in brain readings, it did not.

The pill did not improve how long it took to fall asleep or how long people were able to sleep. In other words, these two studies found that over-the-counter sleep pills are basically worthless for improving your sleep at all.

Risks of Side Effects High

If you’ve ever read the back of the bottle on your sleeping pills (or allergy medication if you have never taken over-the-counter sleeping pills), you know that there are many potential side effects to these medications. Common side effects include headache, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, nightmares, hallucinations, fluid in the lungs, eye problems, hives, blood disorders, confusion, stomach cramps, high blood pressure, liver disease, seizures, stomach ulcers, breathing problems, thyroid problems, heart palpitations, and many others.

According to the studies on diphenhydramine and doxylamine, most people who take the medication experience one or more of these side effects.

Why Over-The-Counter Pills Don’t Work

According to sleep experts, one of the main reasons that over-the-counter sleep aids don’t work is not due to their ineffective ingredients (which were never meant to benefit sleep anyway), but rather to the issue of insomnia itself. Insomnia is not a simple problem that pops up at bedtime.

Rather, insomnia is a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle problem. If your sleep/wake cycle is upset, simply taking a pill to make you drowsy is not likely to be of any benefit. According to sleep experts, the sleep/wake cycle operates similarly to a vehicle’s transmission. During the day, the body is in a higher gear. At night, the body downshifts into a lower gear to prepare for sleep in rest. However, individuals with insomnia do not go through the normal shifts in the hormones that promote drowsiness and restful sleep. A person with insomnia may feel the most tired in the middle of the day, or in the morning hours.

Commonly, insomniacs have higher energy during the day which can make it difficult to unwind at night. A more beneficial method of promoting healthy sleep will address the entire sleep cycle rather than try to trick the brain into sleeping at night.

Do Any Supplements Work for Insomnia?

Now that you know the truth about insomnia and over-the-counter products, you may be wondering if any supplements work for curing insomnia. The truth is, some do, but the supplements work best when combined with habits that encourage the healthy development of the sleep/wake cycle.

For example, you can’t expect any sleep-promoting supplements to work if you drink 4 cups of coffee before bed or engage in high-energy activities right before you turn in for the night. The following supplements have been proven to benefit insomnia and promote healthy sleep and the sleep/wake cycle:

Valerian Root

Studies show that valerian root- used traditionally for hundreds of years as a cure for insomnia- is actually one of the most effective supplements for curing insomnia. Several clinical trials from the 1980s found that supplementing with valerian root was able to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia.


Proper sleep requires the rest of the brain and the development of sleep hormones produced at the right time. Many insomniacs suffer from brain overdrive at night, which can interfere with sleep. According to a study from 2002 conducted by Yale University School of Medicine, study participants who supplemented with GABA had less stress and anxiety and were calmer overall. Resetting the brain can lead to an improved sleep/wake cycle.


This substance has been used to promote sleep for thousands of years. Hops are one of the reasons why beer induced sleep and improves mood. In studies, hops were able to help individuals with insomnia fall asleep faster and have a reduction in insomnia symptoms. Hops are the most effective when taken with valerian.

Passion Flower

Passionflower is another traditional sleep remedy from thousands of years ago. In animal studies, passionflower was shown to prolong sleep and reduce nighttime agitation and restlessness. Passionflower is most effective when mixed with ingredients like hops, valerian root, and lemon balm.


This neurotransmitter is necessary for regulating mood and sleep patterns. Without appropriate levels of this neurotransmitter in the brain, your brain cannot make enough of the sleep-promoting hormones melatonin and serotonin. It is effective in regulating mood and promoting healthy sleep patterns.


Taking the hormone melatonin could help reset your sleep-wake cycle. In a study from 2011, taking melatonin enabled older participants to fall asleep about 15 minutes sooner, but younger participants saw no benefit. Researchers hypothesize that older patients may benefit from melatonin more, as the production of natural melatonin drops as a person ages.

However, supplementing with melatonin for extended periods may not be wise, as your body may stop producing melatonin on its own after supplementing with the synthetic form.


Scientists are not sure of the exact reason, but a deficiency in magnesium can lead to chronic insomnia. Research has shown that for individuals with low magnesium levels and insomnia, raising magnesium levels in the body was shown to reduce symptoms of insomnia.

Resetting Your Sleep Clock

If sleeping pills won’t help you sleep better, then what will? The key to reducing insomnia symptoms is to rest your sleep clock. Taking the supplements listed above while you reset your sleep clock may help you have better sleep and a more efficient wake/sleep cycle. Use the following steps to reset your sleep clock and stop insomnia:

Boost Natural Melatonin Levels

One of the biggest problems with chronic insomnia is that your body simply doesn’t produce enough melatonin. You don’t want to be dependant on the synthetic version of the hormone forever, so it is important to encourage your body to make this essential hormone on its own. As a bonus, proper natural melatonin levels have been shown to fight cancer and stop the spread of tumors in the body. How do you get your melatonin production up?

The process is actually incredibly simple. All you have to do is 1., go outside more, and 2., reduce your exposure to blue light.

Our bodies are biologically designed to listen to the rise and fall of the sun. When the sun is down, it is bedtime. When the sun is up, it is awake time. Exposure to real sunlight during the day encourages sleep. Have you ever stayed awake all night and found that you felt less tired after the sun rose? That is due to your biological clock which is telling you to be awake during the day. If you are outdoors when the sun sets, you likely also start to feel sleepy. Going outdoors in the morning is a more effective wake-up strategy than even drinking coffee.

The next step to boosting your production of melatonin is to avoid white and blue light. For some reason, these lights suppress the production of melatonin and trigger your brain to stay awake. Unfortunately, modern electronics only give off white and blue lights. If you want to boost melatonin production, avoid the use of these items after dark.

Schedule Your Day

Our bodies like routine and habit. When we give our bodies specific cues, we are likely to expect the same thing over and over. That is why it is important to structure your day according to a routine. Set a specific bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends. Allot enough time to get at least 8 hours of sleep for maximum health and minimal drowsiness. When you always go to bed at 10:30, for example, your brain will start to produce its sleep hormones at that time every night and you will fall asleep easier.

Avoid Stimulants

Although stimulants can be helpful in keeping you awake during the day, it is best to avoid them when you are trying to reset your sleep clock. No matter what time of day you have caffeine, for example, it can still interfere with your sleep at night. It can take 24 hours to completely remove all caffeine from your body, which means that if you have it in the morning, some stimulants may still remain in your body. Until you can sleep easily at night, avoid caffeine and other stimulants during the day.

Create a Relaxing Sleep Zone

Your room may be interfering with the quality of your sleep. An uncomfortable bed, bright lights, outside noises, and bedside distractions can all interfere with your sleep. Employ the following checklist to ensure your bedroom is prepared for sleeping:

Sleep Zone Necessities 
  • Comfortable bedding and mattress
  • Room-darkening curtains
  • Yellow and orange lights- not blue or white
  • Cool temperatures
  • Move electronic devices away from the bed

You Don’t Need Sleeping Pills to Fall Asleep

As studies have shown, there is practically no benefit whatsoever in taking over-the-counter sleep aids. If you have an allergy attack, the medications may be useful, but for promoting sleep, the benefits are practically zero. Luckily, there are still a few things you can take to help encourage sleep while you reset your natural sleep clock. By implementing these tips, you are not only stopping the symptoms of insomnia but actually curing the underlying issues that cause it. Within a few weeks, you could be sleeping as easily as a baby.





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