Insomnia: How to get a good night's sleep

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Many people suffer from insomnia and commonly turn to prescription medications and over-the-counter sleeping aids for relief.

If you find yourself struggling after a few restless nights -- perhaps trouble falling asleep, repeated awakenings or waking up feeling tired -- you may decide to try over-the-counter sleeping pills. But before you do, be aware of the different types of over-the-counter and prescription sleeping medications, side effects, safety concerns and alternatives.

The most common over-the-counter sleeping aid is diphenhydramine, an antihistamine, which may cause grogginess the next day. Some popular OTC sleep aids also include pain relievers.

Although available without prescription and generally safe, you should check with your pharmacist about any potential side effects or adverse drug interactions with other medications you are taking for health conditions like high blood pressure.

Also, antihistamines can cause confusion in the elderly.

If you’re having a sleep problem that lasts a few days, talk to your doctor about your concerns.

The FDA recommends taking the following precautions when using sleep drugs.

  • Don’t take them with alcohol
  • Don’t take more than the prescribed dose
  • Don’t take them with other sedating medication

Most sleeping pills are not designed for long-term use, two weeks at most.

Good sleep hygiene includes establishing a regular sleep pattern, a bedroom comfortable for sleeping with comfortable temperature, relaxing activities before bedtime, avoid eating at least two hours before bed, and avoid using caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine for at least four to six hours before bedtime. Tylenol PM contains diphenhydramine and it should be taken only if needed.

Over-the-counter sleep aids help you fall asleep, but not stay asleep. In some cases taking products too long, you can end up with "rebound insomnia."

What you may not realize is that your insomnia could be from a vitamin supplement with the herbal stimulants. I would advise stopping vitamin supplement if you’re having a sleep issue and see how you feel. The general rule of thumb is that you should not take OTC products like Tylenol PM for more than 14 days.

High doses of an over-the-counter medication and not following the instructions on the package can be very risky and cause cardiac problems, seizures and coma. They are not meant for long-term use.

Some “herbal” remedies for sleep, such as kava, have risks associated with them, as well.

Improve your sleep hygiene.

  • Give your bio-clock a boost. Sunlight and exercise early in the day can help reset your internal circadian rhythm.
  • Watch what you drink. Be mindful not to overdo caffeine during the morning and don’t consume caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m. Alcohol can cause disruptive effects on sleep.
  • Stick to the routine -- seven days a week.
  • Create a bedroom that promotes good sleep.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to