Can’t Sleep? A Pharmacist’s Tips for a Good Night’s Rest

Published: January 05, 2022
Samantha Lewiston
By Samantha Lewiston, Pharm.D. Candidate 2021

Everyone has trouble sleeping sometimes. Whether it’s stress, a noisy neighbor, or something else, here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Tip 1: Improve your sleep hygiene
The American Sleep Association defines sleep hygiene as a set of behaviors you can implement to promote good, restful sleep. The following steps can improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Keep a regular sleep routine – Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time (within 20 minutes) every day.
  • Avoid daytime naps – While daytime naps may be tempting, they interfere with your regular sleep routine.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex – Avoid watching TV, reading, or other activities in bed. These interfere with your body knowing that getting into bed means it’s time to sleep.
  • Watch your caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol – Avoid anything with caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks) after early afternoon and avoid nicotine (cigarette, vaping) and alcohol at bedtime.
  • Adjust your bedroom – Keep your bedroom at a comfortable, cool temperature and limit excess noise. Decrease light by turning off all electronics and using light-blocking curtains or an eye mask.

Tip 2: Check your medications
Some medications can affect your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, especially if taken later in the day. Some of the most common medications that cause problems with sleep are listed below. Talk to your pharmacist if you are concerned that your medications may be interfering with your sleep.

  • Steroids (prednisone, dexamethasone)
  • Stimulants (ADHD medications)
  • Decongestants (pseudoephedrine)
  • Thyroid medicine (levothyroxine)
  • Water pills (hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide)

Tip 3: Try an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid
If you have improved your sleep hygiene and are still having trouble getting a good night’s rest, another option is taking an OTC sleep aid. OTC sleep aids are best for short-term use and should not be used for more than two weeks.

  • Melatonin 3-5 mg an hour before bedtime – Melatonin is a hormone naturally released in the body to promote sleep in response to darkness. Supplementing what your body is naturally producing may help you fall asleep.
  • Diphenhydramine HCl 25-50 mg at bedtime – Diphenhydramine is often used for allergies but can also be used as needed for sleep. Morning grogginess is common. There are two different types of diphenhydramine available, but they give you the same amount of diphenhydramine (diphenhydramine citrate 38 mg is equivalent to diphenhydramine HCl 25 mg). Be aware that some combination sleep products contain acetaminophen and should be taken only if the pain is also causing you to have trouble sleeping. Be sure to count this dose in the maximum amount of acetaminophen that you are allowed to take each day.
  • Doxylamine 25 mg a half-hour before bedtime – Doxylamine works in a similar way to diphenhydramine and also causes morning grogginess.
  • Cannabidiol and other herbal supplements – It is important to talk to your pharmacist or doctor about the risks and benefits before taking these products.

For children or people with long-term health conditions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before starting a new medication like an OTC sleep aid.

Summary
Almost everyone has trouble sleeping at some point, but there are several strategies you can try at home to improve your sleep. Check with your pharmacist if you think any of your medications could be causing the problem, improve your sleep hygiene, and try an OTC sleep aid if needed.

If you have tried the tips listed above and are still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Long-term sleep problems might be an indication of other health problems.

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