Ambien Alternatives

Prolonged periods of insomnia can reduce energy, create unstable moods, affect productivity at work, decrease health and reduce quality of life. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that 20 percent of Americans use some form of sleep medication on a regular basis. Ambien, a sedative medication used in the short-term treatment of insomnia, will put you to sleep quickly. Using Ambien regularly, however, increases the risk of dependency, withdrawal symptoms, repeat bouts of insomnia and side effects.

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Prescription Medications

Ambien, a non-benzodiazepines hypnotic, works on the GABA-A receptor sites in the brain. This type of drug is generally prescribed for short-term use, with treatment lasting seven to 10 days. Similar non-benzodiazepines hypnotics are available by prescription only, including Lunesta, Sonata and Rozerem. All non-benzodiazepines medication can cause side effects that may include severe allergic reactions, unusual behavior, fatigue, headaches and morning sedation. Benzodiazepines, a different class of sedative medication, carries higher risks for severe side effects, dependency and withdrawal symptoms, notes UMMC. Often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia, benzodiazepines depress the central nervous system. Prescription benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin and Halcion.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter sleep medications, which contain antihistamines, can induce sleepiness. The Mayo Clinic notes that antihistamines may reduce the quality of sleep and bring on daytime drowsiness. OTC sleep aids should only be used for a few days at a time. Overuse can build up a tolerance and dependency on them. Some OTC sleep medications, like Tylenol PM, contain additional pain relievers. Brand name examples of OTC sleep medications, usually found at most large chain pharmacies, include Nytol, Sominex and Unisom.

Herbal Remedies

Melatonin, a hormone made by the body, which helps regulate the body’s natural sleep cycles, can be found in supplemental form. According to, melatonin is used to treat insomnia and jet lag. Additional research is needed on the possible side effects of long-term use of melatonin. Valerian root and chamomile, which are herbal supplements used to treat insomnia and anxiety, work in a similar manner as benzodiazepines. Both herbs have a sedative-like effect, which can calm the body and mind, and should not be taken with other sleep medications. Valerian and chamomile are found in tea, capsule, tincture and extract forms. Prolonged use of chamomile can increase ragweed allergies.

Behavior Therapy

Taking medication to induce sleep can be a temporary fix for insomnia. The Mayo Clinic recommends lifestyle and behavior changes, which may permanently help treat sleeplessness 1. Creating a sleep routine, by attempting to go to bed and wake at the same time every day, can help to set the body's natural sleep rhythms. Limit eating large meals close to bedtime and reduce intake of caffeinated beverages after lunchtime. Create a relaxing and inviting environment in the bedroom. In the hour before bedtime, allow the body to wind down by taking a bath, reading a book, or practicing deep breathing and meditation.