Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Aids

A guide to common-and not so common-sleep remedies and what you should know before trying them

It’s happened to all of us: It’s hours after we went to bed and we’re still awake, tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. Or worse, we’re sleeping soundly but wake up in the middle of the night and just cannot get back to sleep. At the very least, occasional insomnia can cause puffy eyes and irritability the next day. Frequent insomnia is more dangerous—a consistent sleep deficit can lead to everything from obesity and depression to high blood pressure and heart disease, according to researchers at Columbia University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Chicago.

Mary Susan Esther, M.D., sleep specialist and former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says the first thing to do to ensure a good night’s sleep is to re-calibrate your evening routine. “Take 30 minutes to relax without television, computers or any other stimulants before bed and create an appropriately quiet, dark environment,” she says. Don’t drink caffeine or exercise too close to bedtime (exercising earlier in the day, though, can help you sleep that night), and stay clear of alcohol--it may make you feel drowsy, but it actually disturbs sleep. If you’re still lying awake despite good sleep habits, a sleep aid--be it pill or potion--may help.

Here are some common, and not so common, remedies, from prescription pills to homeopathic treatments,and what you should know before trying them.

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