A: Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are not appropriate for everyone. Those who should make an appointment with their doctor are: People older than 65, people younger than 12, pregnant women, people who wake frequently at night or wake early in the morning, trouble with sleeping for more than three weeks, or sleep disturbances that are due to medical disorders.
If you do not fit into one of these groups, you can be treated with OTC medications. However, having good “sleep hygiene” is important. Principles of good sleep hygiene include using your bed for sleeping only, establishing a regular sleeping pattern, avoiding extreme temperatures, noises and lights in the bedroom and relaxing before bedtime. Exercise regularly but not within two to four hours of bedtime. If hungry, eat a light snack, but avoid eating meals within 2 hours before bedtime. Avoid daytime napping, and avoid using caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine for four to six hours before bedtime. If you are unable to fall asleep, get out of bed and perform a relaxing activity until tired
OTC options include diphenhydramine, melatonin or valerian (not useful for short-term insomnia, requires continuous use to be effective). If you find you need a sleep aid every night for more than 10 days, or every two to three nights for more than three weeks, you should make an appointment with your doctor. If you have questions about which sleep aid to use, stop by the pharmacy and a pharmacist can help you choose the best one for you.
Information from Handbook of Non-Prescription Drugs, Chapter 46 (insomnia, drowsiness, and fatigue) provided by Kristina Griffin, for Hammer Pharmacy, 600. E. Grand Ave., East Village, 243-4117.