If you’ve ever struggled with bouts of insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or other sleep disturbances, chances are you’ve given one of these common over-the-counter sleep aids a try. But which is the most effective and what are the active ingredients? You may be surprised to learn the differences (and lack of) in these medications.
Tylenol PM – Tylenol PM is a bestseller and trusted because of its promise of never creating a physical dependency. The active ingredients in Tylenol PM are acetaminophen and diphenhydramine, a very common antihistamine, found in medications like Benadryl. Diphenhydramine is a reasonably effective sleep aid when used for a very short period of time only. And by very short period of time, I mean five days or less. The first time taking Tylenol PM, the drug is extremely helpful and becomes much less so with each continued use, until the drug appears to have the opposite effect- keeping you up. If you are in need of a one or two time sleep aid, for an important weekend for example, Tylenol PM is a great choice. It is completely safe, will not create physical dependency, but will not work more often than the very occasional use.
Simply Sleep – Simply Sleep is made by the makers of Tylenol and marketed as an entirely different drug than Tylenol PM. What’s the difference? Simply Sleep only contains diphenhydramine, and no acetaminophen. The effectiveness in the exact same as that of Tylenol PM.
Advil PM – Advil PM contains ibuprofen and you guessed it, diphenhydramine! If your sleep issues are caused by aches and pains, this medicine may be an excellent choice, but if you are experiencing problems sleeping for any other reason, I would pass.
Excedrin PM – Excedrin PM is essentially the exact same product as Tylenol PM, merely with a different name. The active ingredients are acetaminophen and diphenhydramine.
Unisom – As far as I’m concerned, Unisom is the only over-the-counter sleep aid worth taking. Unisom’s active ingredient is doxylamine succinate, a much more effective antihistamine. Unisom does not completely knock you out or make you feel drugged, but it relaxes you to the point of falling asleep easily. It also helps you stay asleep, without unwanted sleep disturbances during the night. I have been known to have long bout of insomnia that last for months, and Unisom is the only over-the-counter sleep aid which is guaranteed to get to me through the night every time. Its effectiveness has never wavered and I’ve never experienced any negative side effects, though some do exist, which include: grogginess in the morning and oversleeping. These side effects are especially common the first time you take Unisom and will usually cease once you have gotten used to the active ingredient. Unisom is non-habit forming. Cheaper generic forms are available.
So there you have it. Most over-the-counter sleep aids share the same active ingredient, which is why they all have the same lack of sustained effectiveness. Be sure to check labels when buying over-the-counter sleep aids and become familiar with active ingredients, as you could basically be buying the same product over and over.