Using sleeping pills or supplements for the first time can seem like a scary prospect—especially when you’re in an airplane cabin, closely surrounded by strangers who’ll witness your every sleep-induced move. But using the right ones can make you a more confident achiever of plane sleep: Over-the-counter or natural (read: non-prescription) options are unlikely to cause you a Bridesmaids moment of sleeping pill-induced panic that sends the flight into a tizzy.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills have only a few distinctive active ingredients—some of which you might prefer over others depending on your health needs and preferences. Here’s what to know about the best over-the-counter sleep aids out there, so you can ask your doctor about the kind you think you’d prefer.
Editor’s Note: This story includes both natural sleep aids and over-the-counter sleeping pills. All should be cleared for personal use by a doctor who’s familiar with your unique health conditions and medical history.
Types of Sleeping Pills
Diphenhydramine Sleeping Pills
If you’ve ever taken common sleep or allergy medicines like ZzzQuil, Benadryl, Aleve PM, or Tylenol PM, you’ve taken diphenhydramine. The active ingredient is an antihistamine that quells allergic reactions, with the added side effect of sleepiness that makes it common in sleeping pills.
Diphenhydramine is generally safe but shouldn’t be overused by those who need it for anti-allergy purposes. Overuse can lead to a higher tolerance to the active ingredient, which would mean needing to take more and more for it to continue working. A good rule of thumb is to only use diphenhydramine-based medicines when you really need them: when having an allergic reaction, or on a plane when it’s all you have and you really need some sleep. It’s probably best to use something a little more natural (more on that next).
Melatonin is the hormone your brain naturally releases when it’s tired, to trigger sleepiness, and is about as natural a sleep aid as you can get. It also happens to be available in pill form, so you can introduce the sleep-triggering chemical when it’s not naturally occurring, like on a cramped plane or for fighting jetlag. Like most sleeping pills, it can have some negative side effects if used long-term, but it’s generally the lightest sleep aid you can take, and will usually do the trick for sleeping pill newbies.
If you’ve tried the natural stuff and found that you need something stronger to get to sleep on the plane, another antihistamine called doxylamine is a common active ingredient in stronger sleeping pills like Unisom sleep tablets and NyQuil cold medicine. The same antihistamine qualms apply, but if you’re not allergy-prone and not using antihistamines often, then sleep tabs like Unisom will offer a stronger effect. NyQuil has the added benefit of a pain reliever, fever reducer, and cough suppressant if you’re feeling sick and need some rest.
Valerian root is a potent herbal supplement that causes surprisingly strong sedation and calms anxiety. Even the coated, pill version of this supplement usually has a strong smell that’s reminiscent of funky cheese—but it’s worth it. Called “nature’s Xanax” or “nature’s Valium” by some doctors, valerian root can instill sleepiness and relaxation within about 30 minutes, and it doesn’t have the same after-effect of drowsiness that I’ve experienced hours after taking other sleeping pills.
According to a study in 2019, CBD helped ease anxiety in patients but has yet to be fully proven to aid in sleep. However, if anxiety is part of the reason why you find it difficult to relax on an airplane, it may help you sleep. Also, many CBD sleep aids are mixed with melatonin to help you relax and sleep.
CBD Hemp-derived CBD oils (with THC levels below 0.3 percent) are legal to fly with or be taken across state borders in the U.S., and with CBD becoming more and more popular and sales becoming legal, CBD is a great option for sleeping while traveling.
The Best OTC Sleeping Pills for Travel
|Unisom Sleep Tablets
|WELMATE Sleep Aid
|Kirkland Signature Sleep Aid
|Nature’s Bounty Melatonin
|Klaire Labs Melatonin Lozenge
|Allergy Research Group Liposomal Melatonin
|Douglas Laboratories Controlled Release Melatonin
|Gaia Organics Valerian Root
|Vegan Liquid Phyto-Caps
|Herb Pharm Rhizome With Root Valerian
|Herbal Secrets Valerian Root
|Charlotte’s Web 25MG CBD Oil Capsules
|Highline Wellness CBD Gummies for Sleep with Melatonin
|Broad-Spectrum CBD Tincture for Sleep – Honey Lemon
|CBDFx CBD Gummies for Sleep with Melatonin 1500mg
If you’ve ever had the flu or a bad cold, chances are you used NiQuil to ensure you can sleep while feeling miserable. It’s no surprise that they banked on that uncanny ability to make you sleep and created ZzzQuil. While they don’t taste great, they work wonders.
I know when I have taken Benadryl for allergies, I always take it at night because it makes me drowsy. Kill two birds with one stone by using Benadryl for your allergies and for sleeping on the plane.
If you suffer from headaches, or any pains while traveling, you may want to try Aleve PM to help you sleep on the plane. It combines pain relief and a sleep aid to have you waking up refreshed and pain-free for 12 hours.
If you are a Tylenol user, then Tylenol PM is the better option for pain relief plus a sleep aid. Combining 500 mg Acetaminophen & 25 mg Diphenhydramine HCl, you’ll battle any aches and pains that come with travel while sleeping like a baby.
Unisom Sleep Tablets
Unisom Sleep Tablets only contain Doxylamine succinate, so all it does is help you sleep. Take one of these, and you’ll be dozing in no time on your next red eye.
WELMATE Sleep Aid
Similar to Unisom, WELMATE Sleep Aid’s main ingredient is Doxylamine. Take one 30 minutes before you want to sleep, and you’ll almost be guaranteed to be dreaming as soon as you are ready to!
Kirkland Signature Sleep Aid
A favorite generic brand to many, Kirkland Signature Sleep Aid is a perfect budget choice to help you get that much-needed sleep on an overnight flight. Like other doxylamine medicines, take it about 30 minutes before you want to sleep for the best results.
Nature’s Bounty Melatonin
Nature’s Bounty Melatonin is your run-of-the-mill melatonin in softgel form. This melatonin softgel will mean your body and mind will be able to relax during that long-haul flight you are dreading.
Klaire Labs Melatonin Lozenge
If you can’t or don’t like swallowing pills, the Klaire Labs Melatonin Lozenge may be your best choice for a sleep aid. The quick-release formulation is in lozenge form, so you can either let it dissolve in your mouth or swallow it whole. Either way, you’ll be on your way to a restful flight.
Allergy Research Group Liposomal Melatonin
This fast-acting melatonin liquid has a “liposomal delivery for improved bioavailability and prolonged retention in your body.” Liposomal delivery means quicker absorption as well as longer-lasting effects.
Douglas Laboratories Controlled Release Melatonin
Taken an hour before you want to sleep, Douglas Laboratories Controlled Release Melatonin dissolves gradually over 3-4 hours, releasing slowly into your system.
Gaia Organics Valerian Root
Easily relax on your next flight with this organic valerian root supplement. Made from Valerian grown on Gaia’s certified organic farm, the vegan liquid phyto-caps deliver 1.8 mg of valerenic acid derivatives per serving, leaving you relaxed and ready to sleep.
Type: Valerian Root
Herb Pharm Rhizome With Root Valerian
This liquid form of valerian root can be added to an ounce of water or juice an hour before you want to sleep, as well as right before you go to sleep. It is USDA organic and will calm and relax you for any flight.
Type: Valerian Root
Herbal Secrets Valerian Root
These veggie capsules will help you fall asleep fast and stay asleep. You can feel good about this purchase, too, as every bottle of Herbal Secrets you purchase generates a donation to Vitamin Angels, an organization that delivers life-changing vitamins to children in need.
Type: Valerian Root
Charlotte’s Web 25MG CBD Oil Capsules
These 100% vegan, 100% CO2-extracted CBD oil capsules will keep you calm and relaxed no matter where you are headed. Mixed with olive oil in capsules, making them faster to disintegrate than soft gels, and without the added ingredients that many soft gels contain.
Highline Wellness CBD Gummies for Sleep with Melatonin
These hybrid gummies combine the best of two sleep aids: CBD and melatonin. THC-free, you reap the benefits without the high, but with a calm, restful sleep whether you are home or on the road!
Broad-Spectrum CBD Tincture for Sleep – Honey Lemon
This non-GMO, organic, THC-free tincture tastes great and will make sleeping on the plane a breeze. You have the option of a dropper or spray top, making the application of the tincture as easy as possible. Allergen alert: This tincture uses coconut oil, so anyone with a coconut allergy should choose a different option.
CBDFx CBD Gummies for Sleep with Melatonin 1500mg
These all-natural CBD gummies include passion flower, chamomile & lemon balm to promote calmness, along with CBD and melatonin to ensure a restful sleep for any weary traveler.
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