What are Over the Counter Sleeping pills?

Over the counter sleeping pills are “sedative-hypnotic drugs” that are used to calm or relax patients in order to induce sleep. The typical active component of these drugs is antihistamine which induces the drowsing effect. The major setback of this active ingredient is the rapid tolerance development that the user could experience.

Below are the common types of these drugs:

  • Diphenhydramine: An antihistamine compound used to treat a runny nose, watery eyes, skin rashes, itching, and sneezing.
  • Doxylamine: An OTC drug for the relief of insomnia and treatment of upper respiratory allergies.
  • Melatonin: This compound aids in naturally controlling your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Valerian: It is a herb grown in Europe, North America, and some parts of Asia. The root part of this plant is used to treat sleeping problems. It’s also orally ingested for the relief of anxiety and stress.

Aside from antihistamine, some of these medications also contain a pain reliever compound Acetaminophen or alcohol to magnify the drowsing effect.

What do over the counter sleeping pills look like?

There are several brands of these drugs in the market which appear in various forms. Most of these are sold in tablet and capsule form. Further, they also come in different colors and imprints or pill identifiers. Typically, the pill imprints include the brand name and the strength (usually expressed in milligrams) of the active component. Some tablets have unique perforations as an added pill identifier.

What are the other names of over the counter sleeping pills?

These drugs are also known by the following brand and generic names:

  • Nytol®
  • Sominex®
  • Sleepinal®
  • Compoz®
  • Unisom®
  • Nighttime Sleep Aid®
  • Benadryl®

What are the street names?

These drugs are known in the streets by different names, depending on the area or what they are mixed with. Below are the general street names for these drugs.

Here are some street names:

  • Sleepers
  • Zombie pills
  • Downers
  • Tranks
  • A-
  • Candy pills
  • Planks
  • French fries
  • Totem poles

What are over the counter sleeping pills used for?

These OTC drugs are used for the management and treatment of sleeping disorders. Aside from their medical applications, these drugs are also commonly misused by several people for recreational purposes.

How do over the counter sleeping pills work?

These medications contain an antihistamine that works on the histamine receptor site of the brain. The drowsing effect happens when the antihistamine blocks the histamine from binding at the receptor site. Some drugs of this type are added with Acetaminophen (a pain reliever) to further enhance the relaxing effect.

How strong are over the counter sleeping pills?

The strength of these medications depends on the active component and dosage taken by the patient. Most of it is classified by the DEA under Schedule IV controlled substances.

These medications have a lower addictive potential compared to known illicit stimulants such as heroin and cocaine. However, it has a rapid tolerance development for users which gives higher propensity for dependence. Likewise, it has a high degree of interaction with other substances which can lead to dangerous adverse effects.

How long do over the counter sleeping pills stay in your system, blood, urine, saliva, hair?

The half-life of diphenhydramine is around 2.4 to 9.3 hours which means it is totally flushed out from your system after 2.13 days and 13.2 hours. Whereas the half-life of doxylamine is around 10 hours and a complete removal takes around 2.29 to 3 days.

The time it takes for these medications to be flushed out from your system depends on the type of drug taken. Below is an average estimation of how long these drugs stay in your system.

  • Blood test: 1 to 6 days
  • Urine test: 5 to 7 days
  • Saliva test: up to 3 days
  • Hair test: up to 90 days

How does one get addicted to over the counter sleeping pills?

Addiction to these medications happens due to tolerance and drug dependence. Some signs which indicate you have been dependent include having a hard time of stopping, drug cravings, seeing more than one medical personnel for refills and memory loss.

Use of sleeping pills can also be habit-forming which could lead to tolerance and cravings for a higher dosage.

How does over the counter sleeping pill use affect the brain and the body?

These drugs have the same effect as prescription sleeping pills. They slow down the neural activity of the brain, induces muscle relaxation and slower breathing. Likewise, some of its common side effects include drowsiness, clumsiness, and decreased mental alertness.

What are the short and long-term effects of over the counter sleeping pills?

Aside from inducing sedation and drowsiness, there are other short-term and long-term effects associated with these drugs.

Short-term effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Lack of body coordination
  • Constipation
  • Decreased mental alertness
  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth and throat

Long-term effects:

  • Uncontrollable body shaking
  • Gradual memory loss
  • Cardiac dysfunctions
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Sleepwalking
  • Nightmares

Why are over the counter sleeping pills dangerous?

There are two main reasons why these medications are dangerous: (1) availability and (2) fast tolerance development with these drugs. Meanwhile, the adverse health effects depend on the kind of drug taken and the dosage. In comparison with other illicit substances, these medications have lower addictive potential but pose a high propensity for tolerance and dependence.

Proper precautions must be done as the user cannot fully determine if he is already dependent on these medications. Extreme adverse health effects from overdose and misuse include low blood pressure, low muscle tone, degraded reflexes, depression, suicidal behavior, coma and death.

What causes over the counter sleeping pill overdose?

These medications are readily available in the market which increases the probability of overdose. Further, it can cause fast tolerance build-up for the user, which is the main reason why it’s only intended for short term use.

Another reason for overdose is mixing different pills to get a rapid result and combining it with other substances for recreational purposes.

What are the signs of an overdose?

When someone is suffering from an overdose, the following signs and symptoms can be observed:

  • Fatigue
  • Itching and swelling
  • Weak breathing patterns
  • Depression
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Daytime sleepiness

How do you treat prescription sleeping pill overdose?

When a patient experiences overdose, the following steps can be done:

  • Check and monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • You can do gastric lavage to remove some of the chemicals inside the stomach
  • You can administer intravenous fluids
  • Maintain sufficient airway for the patient
  • In cases of low blood pressure, apply vasopressors
  • Let the patient ingest activated charcoal to absorb some of the substances inside the body.
  • Allow the patient to take flumazenil or romazicon to counteract the effect of these drugs.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from over the counter sleeping pills?

Withdrawal from using these medications can result in varying physical and mental discomfort which is specific to a person. Below are some of the evident signs and symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Rebound insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Shaking
  • Sleeping problems
  • Agitation
  • cravings for the drug
  • Irritability
  • Intense sweating
  • Depression

How can you treat an over the counter sleeping pill addiction?

Abuse of these drugs can be treated. Treatment must be done step-by-step for complete recovery. You can consider the following steps for your treatment process:

  • Consult your medical personnel or clinician for a comprehensive guideline in order to recover from drug dependence.
  • Reward System: A contingency management plan where sets of rewards will be given to the patients who avoid using this substance.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A treatment process seeking to determine the variables causing drug abuse, risk reduction methods, and enhancing coping mechanisms.
  • Recovery Group: A community-based plan which allows the patient to meet other victims and have a sharing about their experiences and success.