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With a Little Help From a Pill

There are many quick-fix sleep aids, but do they work? Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., former director of the NYU Sleep Center, explains how to make the most of them.

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1. Rozerem
Also known by its active ingredient, ramelteon, which is like melatonin but more precise. It binds directly to the melatonin receptors in your brain (unlike sedatives, which slow down connections in your central nervous system).
What to Know: The FDA says to take it 30 minutes before bed, and Walsleben says to stay in dim light and let your body naturally settle down.
Effectiveness: Zzz

2. Ambien
This is the most common drug that contains zolpidem, a widely used sedative. It lasts about six hours.
What to Know: Ambien has come under federal scrutiny: Last year, the FDA said women process the drug more slowly and so should take half the recommended dosage. The drug may also cause memory loss, disturbing dreams, or sleepwalking—and in some cases, even sleep driving or sleep sex.
Effectiveness: Zzzzz

3. Nyquil
It’s not a sleeping pill, but the over-the-counter antihistamine will knock you out—just as Benadryl will (like many others on Duane Reade’s shelves).
What to Know: Take only if you’re sick. “You have to remember the other parts of the drug are active as well,” Walsleben says. “It’s drying you up, and it may well be activating your cardiac system.” None of that is good for you or especially restful.
Effectiveness: Zzz

4. Melatonin
“It’s a hormone of darkness,” Walsleben says. Our bodies naturally excrete melatonin after the sun goes down, prepping us for bed. But if you have a hard time winding down after the day, this pill gives your body a hormonal nudge.
What to Know: Take it two hours before you want to sleep and then stay in dim light. But don’t make this a nightly habit. Melatonin can cause wild or violent dreams, and in animal testing has been shown to shrink testicles.
Effectiveness: Zzz

5. Sonata
It’s like Ambien-lite—a sleeping pill that lasts only a few hours.
What to Know: “This is for someone who wakes up at 3 or 4 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep,” Walsleben says. Sonata is short-acting enough to take a user through those final hours of the night. It also carries similar side effects to Ambien’s and Lunesta’s, though Walsleben says they’re far less common.
Effectiveness: Zzzz

6. Lunesta
It has a different sedative than Ambien but knocks you out just as strongly, Walsleben says.
What to Know: Following a recent FDA announcement halving the recommended dosage (because the standard amount impaired people during their morning commute), new users should start with 1 mg and then increase to 2 or 3 mg if need be.
Effectiveness: Zzzzz


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