Ambien (generically known as zolpidem) is a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic, central nervous system depressant used to treat certain sleep problems, such as insomnia. There is no substitute for Ambien that will be best for everyone, as each person has distinct needs. When an individual is prescribed Ambien, it is done so because it is considered the best possible option. Should Ambien be ineffective for any reason, there are a variety of alternatives that may prove to be more effective, including over the counter (OTC) medicines, and prescription medications. As is true with any substance, there are risk factors and potential unwanted side effects associated with taking sleep aids which exponentially increase when the substance is abused.
Over The Counter Alternatives
There are a wide variety of OTC sleep aids available. The Mayo Clinic provides the following examples of common over the counter sleep aid options as well as potential side effects:
- Diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl, Aleve PM, etc.): Diphenhydramine is a sedating antihistamine. Side effects might include daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, and urinary retention.
- Doxylamine (e.g., Unisom SleepMelts): Doxylamine is also a sedating antihistamine. Side effects are like those of diphenhydramine.
- Melatonin: The hormone melatonin helps control one’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Side effects can include headaches and daytime sleepiness.
- Valerian: Supplements made from this plant are sometimes taken as sleep aids. The efficacy remains controversial as few studies indicate therapeutic benefits, while other studies haven’t found the same benefits.
Most OTC sleeping aid medications contain antihistamines to produce its sedative effects.
Prescription Sleep Aid Alternatives
There are two main categories of prescription sleeping pills that are currently used in the medical field to treat sleep disorders. These include benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines include medications that are not only used as sleep aids, but also used to treat anxiety disorders. They work by interacting with the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). The medication interacts with the neurons in one’s brain to suppress and calm down electrical excitement. Commonly known benzodiazepines medications include Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam). Non-benzodiazepines are sedative-hypnotic medications, including examples such as Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Sonata (zaleplon). They also work by interacting the GABA, but primarily focus on and activate the receptors in one’s brain that have to do with sleep, instead of benzodiazepines that also target anxiety. Prior to prescribing an alternative sleep aid medication, a medical professional will consider all specific risks as they relate to the patient.
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