Advice for patients

Over the counter: sleeping pills

In this post I will summarise the main sleeping products available in UK for relief of temporary sleeping problems which are available over the counter without a prescription.

Insomnia can be caused by number of factors. Some common include stress and anxiety. Changing you sleeping habits can improve your sleeping. However there are number of things that can be done to relief insomnia.

NHS UK and Mind offer some excellent tips on improving your sleep.

All products available over the counter ‘for sleeping’ contain sedative antihistamines as main active ingredient. Two antihistamines used in sleeping pills in UK are diphenhydramine and promethazine. Both drugs are sold under different branded names including pharmacy own brands.

What brand of sleeping pills are available over the counter?

Diphenhydramine:

  • Nytol Original 25mg
  • Nytol One a Night 50mg
  • Boots Sleepeaze 50mg
  • Tesco Sleep Aid (25mg and 50mg)
  • Superdrug Sleep Aid (25mg and 50mg)
  • Lloyds Pharmacy Sleep Aid 50mg
  • Panadol Night (with paracetamol)

Promethazine:

  • Sominex
  • Phenergan night time
  • Phenergan (10mg and 25mg)

Number of cold and flu cough products contain diphenhydramine and promethazine for management of ‘cold and flu’ symptoms at the same time to aid sleeping. Other uses include relief of allergies, hayfever symptoms and travel sickness.

 Why antihistamines are used in sleeping pills?

The main side effect for both diphenhydramine and promethazine is drossiness and sedation. The main difference between both drugs from patient’s choice perspective is the duration of action.

  • Sleeping products containing diphenhydramine can cause drowsiness for up to 8 hours
  • Sleeping products containing promethazine can cause drowsiness for up to 12 hours
  • This is a rough estimate you may be drowsy in the morning with any preparations as number of factors can affect the duration of action of sleeping tablets

What is maximum time you can use sleeping pills containing diphenhydramine or promethazine?

  • For diphenhydramine containing sleeping aids: 14 days. Consult doctor if longer use needed.
  • For promethazine containing sleeping aids: 7 days. Consult doctor if longer use needed.

Tolerance to sleeping products

Over the counter sleeping pills containing above drugs have some role in management of short term sleeping problems, however it has been documented that when used regularly tolerance develops rapidly (Vande Griend, Anderson, 2003). In simple words this means that you are less likely to fall asleep when taking sleeping pills regularly.

Are sleeping pills for me?

Sleeping aids may be suitable for some as temporary solution to their sleeping problem. However, long term safety of sleeping products has not been evaluated. Few important points to consider:

  • What causes your sleeping problems?
  • Have you tired changing your sleeping habits?
  • Do you suffer from insomnia often?
  • Are you using sleeping pills on regular basis?
  • Are you taking any other medication?
  • Do you have any other underlying conditions?
  • Are you aware of other side effects caused by sleeping pills?

Always read product information leaflet before using any over the counter medication and speak to your doctor if you suffer from insomnia on regular basis.

References:

Vande Griend, Anderson (2003). Histamine-1 receptor antagonism for treatment of insomnia. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23229983 Accessed on 30/03/2019

I am a community pharmacist working in UK. I blog about drugs, health and pharmacy.

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