Prescription sleeping medication like Rozerem seems promising without the problems of dependence and rebound insomnia. However, people continue to look to OTC sleep aids as alternatives. These may not boast the same effectiveness as prescription sleeping medication and their hangover side effects are infamous. Here are the 5 actual reasons observed why OTC sleep aids are still very popular.

1. It’s convenient. That’s obvious. The most popular ones are the antihistamines that have FDA’s approval for use as OTC sleep aids so you don’t have to get a doctors’ prescription. It is a recognized fact today that having the occasional or transcient insomnia due to work or lifestyle circumstances is common. OTC sleep aids are recognized to be useful in such situations. The only problem is that some people might start to rely on them out of habit and take them long term instead.

2. There are less surprises. These antihistamines have been around for a long time, much longer than the popular prescription sleeping medications like Ambien and Lunesta. Antihistamines are decades old while non-benzodiazepines like Ambien emerged in the 1990s. Hence, the probability of unknown dangerous side effects is much lower for antihistamine OTC sleep aids.

As it is, doctors are usually wary of new sleeping medications that have not stood the test of time. This is one of the 2 major objections from prescribers that any drug company faces when marketing a new medication. Painful lessons were learnt with the withdrawal of drugs like Vioxx, the painkiller and Avandia for diabetes.

It must be noted however that supplement OTC sleep aids differ from antihistamines. Supplements do not require FDA approval as over the counter sleep aids and hence, long term safety have not been documented all along.

3. The lesser evil. The side effects of OTC sleep aids are deemed the lesser evil. Most people put up with the infamous hangover side effect or have simply adapted how they take the OTC sleep aids e.g. smaller doses or just sleep earlier and longer. Granted these hangovers and other related side effects can be extreme for some people. However, next day drowsiness seems less bizarre than unconsciously sleepwalking on prescription sleeping medications. FDA has recently required that stronger warnings were added to sleeping medications’ labels about these side effects that can be life threatening.

4. Cheaper than a can of coke. An OTC sleep aid costs only 30-40 cents compared to Lunesta at $3-$4 a tab. People are happy to resolve their sleeplessness at lower cost and lower risks. Cost is always a major deciding factor if the additional benefits of prescription sleeping medication don’t measure up to the price difference.

5. Instant lifestyle. Change is constant and fast for this sleepless 24/7 generation. We want both instant gratification and instant solutions for our stress filled lives. OTC sleep aids are readily pocketed along with our Blackberrys and iPods.

It goes without saying that there is no magic panacea for insomnia. Over the counter sleep aids are best used for the occasional insomnia at recommended doses. You will develop tolerance if used longer than necessary. As with prescription sleeping medications, OTC sleep aids must be taken responsibly i.e. being aware of possible drug interactions with any current medication, resolving the underlying cause of insomnia, etc.

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