This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Whether you’re experiencing jet lag, shifting schedules at work, or adjusting to a new life routine, temporary use of over-the-counter sleep aids may be helpful in allowing you to get the sleep you need. There are many to choose from, and they do different things to your body to cause you to sleep. Keep an eye out for these three ingredients that are most commonly found in OTC sleep aids.



Your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle; many over-the-counter sleep aids feature a synthetic version as the main ingredient.  You can find melatonin supplements in drug stores and pharmacies in dosages ranging from one to 10 milligrams.


Melatonin is most often used for temporary sleep issues that affect your body’s internal clock, such as recovering from jet lag or switching shift work schedules.  For best results, experts suggest taking sleep aids that contain the supplement 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed; melatonin will induce drowsiness so you fall asleep faster.


Valerian Root

Like melatonin, valerian root is a natural sleep aid ingredient. Some research suggests that valerian root can help relax the body, reduce anxiety, and regulate your sleep cycle.  The supplement may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by 15 to 20 minutes while also improving sleep quality.


Experts recommend taking 400 to 900 milligrams up to two hours before bed to improve sleep quality. Supplements that include valerian root may have milder results than other over-the-counter sleep aids but are also more likely to be free of side effects.



Diphenhydramine (or DPH) is the main active ingredient in many allergy medicines. As a sedative antihistamine, the main purpose of DPH is to fight allergies, but as a side effect it can also induce sleep. DPH is found in OTC products such as Benadryl, Aleve PM, and ZzzQuil. Because these sleep aids may cause daytime drowsiness, block mental alertness, and cause blurred vision, it’s important to take them only when you plan to sleep at least eight hours; you should also avoid driving a car or operating heavy machinery while taking them.


Remember, over-the-counter sleep aids are meant for temporary use. If you’re still having sleep issues after two weeks of using one of these products, talk to your health care provider about how you can get the shut-eye you need.