This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

As you scan the colorful boxes of sleep aids on the pharmacy shelf, it might seem easy to grab one to see if it makes a difference in the amount of sleep you get each night. But before you take an over-the-counter sleep aid, it’s a smart idea to check in with your doctor. A physician can tell you whether the sleep aid is safe and effective. What’s more, since every person’s health history is different, a consultation with a medical professional can help you find the right aid for you.  To start, here are four questions to ask your doctor before you reach for an OTC sleep aid.


Should I make other changes first?

It’s tempting to seek a quick fix for sleepless nights, but getting to the bottom of sleep issues can take time. Talk with your health care provider about your daily routine and learn whether lifestyle changes could make a difference.  Daily behaviors,  such as caffeine consumption, exercise, relaxation techniques, and your bedroom environment, may improve your sleep quality without the need for medication.


What’s the right dose for me?

After considering your age, height, weight, and various aspects of your health history, your doctor can suggest the correct dosage to take for various sleep supplements.  Be sure to inform your physician about every medication you’re already taking, whether over-the-counter or by prescription, to be sure it’s okay to mix them with a sleep aid.


Are there side effects?

Some sleep aids may cause side effects,  including irritability, thirst, headache and more. Ask your doctor about possible side effects that you might experience, and any advice for reducing that possibility. Always take the recommended amount as directed by your health care provider and read the literature (and the back of the box) that comes with your sleep aid so you’ll know what to expect.


How long can I take a sleep aid?

Over-the-counter sleep medications are not meant to be a long-term solution.  Discuss with your doctor a safe plan to start taking them and then schedule a follow up visit to report your results. If you feel like you can’t get to sleep—or stay asleep—without taking a pill every night, speak with your physician. Some drugs can cause dependency if taken for too long or at the wrong dose.