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So, what are you supposed to do when the Zzz’s aren’t coming naturally, and when a hot bath, warm milk, counting sheep, and faking it ’til you make it (to sleep, that is) are all falling short?

Roll out of bed, stumble over to your medicine cabinet, and take a sleep aid. Sleep aids are supplements or over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are designed specifically to help you drift off into dreamland using the power of science.

Here are our faves.

Determine your goal

First, what’s your goal? Are you trying to fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer, or both? Or maybe, you need something to help calm your racing thoughts and bring some stress relief.

Some folks may need something just for backup, on those rare, restless nights when they just can’t get to sleep.

Your goal will influence the best type of sleep aid for you, and you can read about the main different types right here.

Pick your active ingredients

We dug into the latest research and called upon the expertise of Andrea Paul, MD, medical advisor at Illuminate Labs, and Sarah Anderson, functional medicine nurse practitioner at Peak Integrative Wellness, to get these sleep facts straight. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most commonly used and effective sleep aids.

  • Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces that helps you sleep. Your circadian rhythm dictates melatonin production, and it naturally increases as the sun goes down. Supplementary melatonin can help restore a dysfunctional circadian rhythm and allow you to get some much needed rest. Another plus? “It’s the most well-studied OTC sleep aid in terms of efficacy and safety,” according to Paul.
  • Diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate. These two medications are both antihistamines (aka allergy medications), so you may already have some lying around in your medicine cabinet. However, they both have the side effect of causing drowsiness — so they’re separately marketed as sleep aids, as well.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD). Derived from the cannabis plant, CBD has some pretty promising research to back up its use as a sleep aid (without getting you “high“). Not only has it shown to help with insomnia, but it also helps reduce anxiety and relieve pain — two serious sleep killers.
  • L-theanine. L-theanine brings the chill. It has proven anti-anxiety and relaxation benefits, so it may help you get to sleep if your mile-a-minute mind is keeping you from getting any rest. It’s found naturally in green tea.
  • Adaptogens. Recent research shows that Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwaghanda can help reduce stress and anxiety *and* help people fall and stay asleep. Reishi mushroom also has an anti-insomnia effect. You can find these as supplements and in sleepytime teas.

Supplement type

These sleep aids come in powders, gummies, pills, or liquids. Choose the one that vibes with you the most. Like if you hate mixing up a powder and then choking it down, don’t force yourself to do that right before bed when you’re trying to wind down. The same goes for if you hate swallowing pills.

Other health concerns

“People with sleep apnea or any other diagnosed sleep disorder should speak with their doctor before purchasing OTC sleep aids,” says Paul, “to ensure these products won’t increase risk.”

Additionally, it’s important that you don’t mix sleep aids and alcohol because they can interact with one another.

Finally, if you have any questions about sleep aids or concerns about your sleep health, please make an appointment with your healthcare professional. No shame in this game!

Wondering why you should trust our recs? Here are the criteria we used:

  • Evidence-based. We included products that have scientific research to support their use for sleep (and that were recommended by our experts, Anderson and Paul), like melatonin, CBD, l-theanine, diphenhydramine, and doxylamine succinate.
  • Good reviews. We also sifted through reviews (and/or drew on our personal experiences with these sleep aids) to get an idea of how the supplement or medication worked for most people.
  • Certifications and reputation. Finally, we looked for supplements that were made in certified Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) facilities (meaning the facilities they’re manufactured in meet FDA standards). We also looked for products that had undergone third party testing to ensure quality and purity of their supplements. And the OTC medications included on this list are fully FDA-approved.

Pricing guide

  • $ = less than $1 per serving
  • $$ = $1–$3 per serving
  • $$$ = $3.00 or more per serving

Best overall sleep aid

Beam Dream Extra Strength Capsules

  • Price: $$$
  • Ingredients: melatonin, l-theanine, reishi powder, magnesium, hemp oil
  • Type: capsule
  • Dosage: 2 capsules
  • Certifications: cGMP, third party testing

If you’re not playing around, this product is IT. It contains a potent combination of some of our evidence-backed faves — including melatonin, l-theanine, and reishi mushroom — to help you relax and fall asleep.

Additionally, it contains magnesium, which has also shown promising results for improving sleep quality and duration. The formula is topped off with hemp oil (*not* the same thing as CBD oil), known for its antioxidant benefits that can help reduce inflammation.

This is pretty heavy-duty stuff. On its website, Beam says that this product is for people with “persistent sleep difficulties,” people with “drastically changing schedule[s] which interrupt [their] sleep patterns,” and people who “struggle with circadian rhythm issues.” So not for a sporadic sleepless night.

Most reviewers are extremely impressed with the product and say that it really makes a huge difference — which is a good thing because this stuff is PRICEY.

Pros

  • contains evidence-backed anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing ingredients
  • can save money by signing up for a subscription
  • third-party tested

Cons

  • expensive
  • not widely available (must order on Beam’s site)

Best melatonin-free sleep aid

Remrise Sleep Powder

  • Price: $$$
  • Ingredients: reishi mushroom, ashwagandha, magnesium, glycine, tart cherry, passionflower, tryptophan, spine date seed, schisandra berry, vitamin b6
  • Type: powder
  • Dosage: 2 scoops
  • Certifications: cGMP

Remrise is a melatonin-free sleep powder that contains some powerhouse sleep and relaxation ingredients. It contains two of our adaptogen faves (ashwagandha and reishi mushroom) to reduce stress and help you fall asleep — plus Schisandra berry to help further reduce the effects of stress on your body.

But that’s not all. It’s got a slew of other sleep-happy ingredients:

  • Glycine is an amino acid that improves sleep quality (and also lowers your body temp to signal that it’s time for bed).
  • Tryptophan is another amino acid that can improve sleep (it’s the one found in turkey that makes people so sleepy after a big T-giving meal).
  • Tart cherry can help increase sleep duration and efficiency, according to a small study.
  • Passionflower is known for reducing anxiety and having sedative effects.
  • Spine date seed has been used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat insomnia. A 2018 review of studies supports its use as an alternative treatment for insomnia, too.
  • Vitamin b6 might play a role in falling asleep faster and getting better sleep. It might also help you remember your dreams better. Pretty cool, huh??

Remrise says that the longer you take its product, the better it will work to help improve your sleep quality and regulate your circadian rhythm.

Some reviewers dislike the taste, but most still agree that it helps with their sleep quality.

Pros

  • contains evidence-backed anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing ingredients
  • reviewers say it really helps

Cons

  • expensive
  • some reviewers say it tastes bad

Best sleep aid gummy

No. 8 Sleep Gummies

  • Price: $$
  • Ingredients: melatonin, vitamin B6
  • Type: gummy
  • Dosage: 4 gummies
  • Certifications: cGMP, third party testing

These pretty sleep gummies from No. 8 are marketed for jet lag, but their dose of melatonin and vitamin B6 can help with any of your can’t-get-to-sleep woes.

And talk about beautiful packaging that looks RIGHT at home on your nightstand. If you subscribe, your second and ongoing shipments will be refill bags (so hold on to the jar!). We love an eco-friendly queen.

Reviewers say they really work, but these gummies do contain some added sugar and provide 12 grams of total carbs per serving — important to know if you’re counting macros.

Pros

  • gummies are convenient (and tasty)

Cons

  • expensive
  • not keto-friendly

Best melatonin sleep aid

Life Extension Melatonin

  • Price: $
  • Ingredients: melatonin
  • Type: capsule
  • Dosage: 1 capsule
  • Certifications: cGMP

Looking for a basic, no-frills, effective melatonin supplement? Check out this one from Life Extension. A single dose provides 10 milligrams (mg) of melatonin to help you rest and regulate your Circadian rhythm.

This melatonin is also really inexpensive, breaking down to just about $10 per month — and its reviews are just as positive as some of the more expensive products on this list.

Although there are some concerns about taking melatonin on the reg, according to Paul it’s very safe and carries an extremely low risk for dependency.

Pros

  • inexpensive
  • evidence based

Cons

  • some reviewers say it doesn’t work

Best CBD sleep aid

CBDistillery Full-Spectrum CBD Oil Tincture

  • Price: $
  • Ingredients: full-spectrum CBD
  • Type: oil
  • Dosage: 17 mg CBD per dropper
  • Certifications: third-party tested (certificate of analysis available online)

CBDistillery is known for making high quality CBD products and being super transparent about its process and business practices, which is why the brand made our list.

This tincture only contains two ingredients: full-spectrum CBD and MCT oil. So how does that help with sleep?

While CBD itself has been shown to help people sleep better, full-spectrum CBD, in particular, contains all the naturally-occurring cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in the cannabis plant. And terpenes are known for having therapeutic effects of their own — including helping folks sleep better.

In fact, two terpenes in this tincture — caryophyllene and bisabolol — have both shown to have sedative effects. Woot!

Reviewers love this oil, saying it helps them sleep better and relieves aches and pains. The biggest downside is that it’s flavorless and some people really hate the taste of CBD.

Pros

  • research on CBD helping people sleep is promising
  • high quality CBD brand
  • reviewers love it

Cons

  • no flavor options

Best drugstore sleep aid

ZzzQuil Nighttime Sleep Aid Liquid

  • Price: $
  • Ingredients: diphenhydramine
  • Type: liquid
  • Dosage: 30 (milliliters) ml
  • Certifications: OTC medication

If you’re looking for something inexpensive and super effective at your local drugstore, go straight for the ZzzQuil. It contains diphenhydramine, that antihistamine that helps knock ya out when you need an assist to catch those Zzz’s.

However, this OTC medication does contain a number of additives, including food dyes. If you try to avoid food dyes, keep scrolling. (You can also keep it as a backup in your medicine cabinet — use it when the natural stuff isn’t cutting it, or in case you find yourself wide awake with nothing else to take.)

Additionally, some reviewers say that the formula recently changed, but NOT for the better.

Pros

  • doctor-recommended
  • works quickly

Cons

  • contains a number of additives

Best budget sleep aid

Unisom SleepTabs

  • Price: $
  • Ingredients: doxylamine succinate
  • Type: tablets
  • Dosage: 1 tablet
  • Certifications: OTC medication

Coming in at about $12 for a nearly 3-month supply, you can’t beat the price of this sleep aid. And, it’s recommended by Anderson for its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, though, doxylamine may leave you feeling a little groggy until a few hours after you wake up. And, this medication contains some dyes and additives, so it won’t work for everyone.

Pros

  • doctor-recommended
  • non-habit-forming

Cons

  • contains some dyes and additives

Most sleep aids should be taken 10 to 30 minutes before bedtime.

However, this can vary from product to product. Be sure to read the package instructions and follow them to a T.

(And please, give it time to kick in and DON’T take another dose for the same night unless you’ve received express approval to do so from a healthcare professional.)

Sleep aids, even natural ones, aren’t without their risks. Some of the risks and side effects you may encounter from using sleep aids include:

  • Dependency. Natural and OTC medications don’t generally carry a high risk of dependency, says Anderson. Nevertheless, you may find yourself feeling like you NEED a sleep aid to fall asleep.
  • Oversleeping. And if your sleep aids work too well, you may find yourself investing in a louder alarm clock because you just can’t wake up.
  • Grogginess. Another common side effect of sleep aids is a feeling of grogginess when you wake up. In fact, many people who have used doxylamine succinate report that it often leaves them feeling really groggy for a couple of hours after waking up.

To avoid more severe side effects or complications, it’s CRITICAL you don’t take too much. Take a single dose as defined on the supplement or medication container.

Says Anderson, “I recommend more natural remedies as medications can interact with one another and can often cause side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, or headache.”

Is it OK to take a sleep aid every night?

TBH, it’s not recommended.

Ideally, sleep aids should be a temporary solution and you’d be able to quickly wean yourself off of them and fall asleep flying solo.

According to Anderson, taking sleep medications daily can be problematic, particularly in older people. “The body’s ability to process drugs decreases as we age,” she explains, “which can lead to toxic buildup of medications or unintentional overdoses. It’s better to use the medications sparingly and focus on good habits, particularly the older you get.”

And if you just need the ritual of taking a sleep aid, try substituting your sleep aid with a warm mug of a calming tea like chamomile or honey lavender.

If you’ve reached a point where you can’t fall asleep without a sleep aid, it’s time to make an appointment with your healthcare professional so they can help you get to the bottom of it — or refer you to a specialist who can.

What is the most effective natural sleep aid?

Melatonin seems to work for a lot of people, and according to Anderson and Paul, is very safe too.

In fact, Paul explains, “Melatonin is proven in medical research to have no effect on endogenous melatonin production, so there’s no risk to taking it daily. Even if you stop melatonin supplementation, it shouldn’t negatively impact your sleep moving forward.”

What is the most popular OTC sleep aid?

Melatonin is a really popular choice, but so are the two pharma options diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate. If you’ve tried melatonin and it just doesn’t do the trick, try OTC options like Unisom or ZzzQuil.

What else can help me fall asleep?

“The most important (and nonpharmacologic) thing people can do to help get good restorative sleep,” Anderson explains, “is to focus on good sleep hygiene.” Here are the tips she recommends to help you get your best Zzz’s on the nightly:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Develop a “wind down” nighttime ritual that you follow each evening.
  • Avoid electronics 2 to 3 hours before bedtime (wow, we need to work on this one).
  • Get some exercise daily.
  • Enjoy some time in bright sunlight each morning, if you live in an area where that’s possible.

Additionally, Paul recommends blue light blocking glasses — which help to cut down on blue light from screens, that can disrupt your Circadian rhythm and melatonin production.

Our fave bedroom activity definitely involves the s-word: SLEEP. But if sleep is not happening for you for whatever reason, you may want to reach for a sleep aid.

Stick to evidence-based sleep aids like melatonin, diphenhydramine, and doxylamine succinate to help you fall asleep — or alternative options like CBD, l-theanine, or adaptogens to help you relax and get in the sleeping mood. Also make sure to prioritize good sleep hygiene and get into a really consistent, calming bedtime routine.

If you’re still not able to get some good shut-eye at least 3 nights a week for 3 or more months, consider reaching out to a sleep specialist to discuss potential ways to help you get those Zzz’s.