With the exception of antihistamine-based sleeping pills and the hormone melatonin, most all non-addictive sleep aids are herbal. Herbs such as chamomile, valerian and kava have been used for centuries to cure insomnia. Other non-addictive sleep aids include techniques that promote relaxation, such as yoga and deep breathing exercises.
Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces naturally. It is generally at its highest levels during times of darkness; during daylight hours, the levels decrease dramatically. Some researchers believe that melatonin levels alert the central nervous system that it is time for sleep. Side effects of melatonin are believed to be minimal, but studies on long-term use remain unclear. Melatonin can be obtained in pill form at most health food stores.
Most sleeping pills available without prescription use antihistamines as the main ingredient. This is the same ingredient found in many anti-allergy medications. Antihistamine is an ingredient that may counteract a brain chemical called histamine, the function of which is to keep the brain alert. Though antihistamines are not believed to be physically addictive, they do have other side effects. Many people complain of feeling "hung over" for hours after they wake from antihistamine-induced sleep.
Valerian is another popular non-addictive sleep aid available without prescription. It is an herbal remedy made from the root portion of the valerian plant. Valerian has been the subject of many studies conducted in Europe, but the results of these studies are not clearly substantiated. The main side effects reported regarding valerian are primarily upset stomach and headache. It also may interact badly with other sedatives.
Chamomile and passion flower have long been promoted as natural non-addictive sleep aids. They are usually consumed as teas, but are also available in pill form. Taken before bedtime, they are believed to help promote relaxation and sleepiness. Chamomile and passion flower both contains a chemical called chrysin. According to some studies, chrysin acts as a natural anti-anxiety treatment, which could account for their effectiveness on sleep disorders.
Other non-addictive sleep aids are not necessarily taken as a pill, but are more a lifestyle change. Avoiding heavy meals, especially those high in carbohydrates, may help promote sleep. In addition, some studies seem to suggest that people who practice yoga tend to have fewer problems falling asleep. Many people can have occasional bouts of insomnia, and it is generally not considered a health risk. However, chronic insomnia can be serious and may need to be treated by a physician.