What is the best OTC medicine to cause sleep (for adults) on long flights?

I have 4 red-eye flights in the next two weeks (3 trans-pacific and greater than 10 hours). It takes too much alcohol to make me drousy to make it worthwhile. I had a vicodin that I had to take after some dental work which resulted in the greatest flight (non)experience ever. So do you have any suggestions about alternative methods to aid in sleeping?

Last time I had an 11 hour red eye, I was certain I’d need something, so I bought the generic version of the Tylenol Sleep Aid-- it was $2 or something like that. I do know that Nyquil recently came out with their own sleep aid, so you might look into that, but most drug stores have their own cheap, generic, in house brand for a fraction of the price.

Anyway, before those two red eyes, I made a point of only getting a few hours of sleep the night before, then drinking some coffee to power through the day. When the plane took off, I fell asleep before I had time to take the pills. I woke up every couple of hours, stretched my legs, then immediately fell back asleep. So, if you’re like me, you won’t even need the sleep aids.

That said, I’ve taken that generic stuff when I’ve had to crazily switch up my sleep schedule and it works just fine.

There are two primary OTC sleep aids, and they are both essentially antihistamines: Doxylamine and Diphenhydramine. The second is the most common, but carries the risk of an opposite effect - some people (myself included) experience restless legs and an overall “itchyness” from it. (Not really an itch, but that’s the closest description I’ve heard.)

Doxylamine (Unisom, etc.) is far more restful IME, but everyone is different. I strongly recommend buying a sample of each and trying them out before your trip.

There’s also Hydroxyzine, another common OTC drowsy-making drug. It’s another antihistamine also.

Thanks for the insights. Generally sleeping isn’t a problem for me- in a previous job, I would fall asleep during my 15 minute breaks. My fear is getting an uncomfortable seat with a non-extendible headrest and just being miserable and frustrated. The travel is for business (in sales) and as such I need to be in my best form shortly after landing.

Wow, never heard anybody else get that before! I had tried the doxylamine type first, and it did absolutely nothing for me, then started using <generic> pm stuff. The itchy thing didn’t start until after using it about 10 years or so; I thought maybe it was a weird tolerance build-up, 'cause that prevents me from sleeping. >.<
Going to try the Doxy stuff again and see if that works any better now.
On the same note: it blew me away to discover that the diphenhydramine just Benadryl. :eek: How do people take Benadryl every day and stay awake?!

Gravol works wonders.

My favorite sleep aid is Melatonin (preferably the sublingual liquid drops, it kicks in quick). I never feel hungover after a Melatonin nap, whereas Benadryl definitely does give me that drowsy hungover feeling–even after a full night’s sleep. YMMV! If you go with melatonin, you will want to take a *very *small amount, though. The recommended dosage is usually way too high, but not all manufacturers have caught up with that yet:

I got a bottle of liquid melatonin off Amazon for 5ish bucks, and it’s lasted for several months so far. I just hold a very tiny amount of liquid under my tongue for as long as I can before I swallow it. I don’t use it every night, but when I have trouble getting to sleep. It helps!

I think it would also help to get one of those bean-filled squishy neck pillows, so you can tilt your head to the side while sleeping upright–unless you’re traveling business class, you can’t count on being able to recline to any significant degree. I would have liked to lean over sideways and sleep with my head on the window sill the couple times I’ve flown, but of course there wasn’t one. I don’t know about you, but I can’t sleep with my head straight up, because it will tilt and bob and wake me up every time I nod off.

I’d be reluctant to try any of the suggestions offered in that case, except maybe melatonin. I get a pretty bad hangover effect from older antihistamines, though. Kind of a toss-up whether partially rested and still drugged is preferable to unrested but undrugged.

I use Gravol as a sleep aid here on the ground. It may work in a plane too.

You’re American. Demand your right to benzodiazapenes!

Otherwise I find promethazine a better “sleeper” than diphenhydramine. No experience with doxylamine (or even heard of it) and melatonin is prescription only here.

edit: a bit of goolging shows that doxylamine is over the counter in the US and prescription only here, while promethazine is over the counter here and prescription over there. Sorry!

Yeah, melatonin used to give me big ‘hangovers’, while tylenol pm <or the generic> is verifiably wearing off for me after a couple of hours. I went to sleep with it once, to be woken up by my sister in labor; got her to the hospital just fine. Never had a hangover from it, so people’s mileage may vary. For the record, melatonin doesn’t give me a hangover any more, at least not after a couple day’s usage. For a one-time use…I dunno. I’d be wary.

If you’re following the dosage listed on your melatonin bottle, you are probably taking WAAAAY too much. Like I quoted above, many/most melatonin bottles recommend an unnecessarily vast amount of the drug. Of course, it couldn’t hurt to test it out for a couple nights so he knows how it will affect him on the flight. But melatonin *shouldn’t *cause a hangover, that only happens after a real whopper dose (particularly a time-released whopper dose). That’s why I prefer the drops over the pills, because drops aren’t time-release and you have full control over dosage.


why does it have to be OTC?

I get Ambien from my doctor and this is one of the reasons: if I need to sleep on a plane it works and I don’t feel drowsy when I wake up like I do with benedryl.

Meletonin didn’t have any effect on me, not sure why. off to google Gravol! :smiley:

Be careful with Ambien if you get it, and try it before the plane trip. You can get hallucinations or sleepwalk on it.

I get generic Benadryl. Same stuff as OTC sleeping pills, but cheaper.

My experience has been that doxylamine works better for me than benadryl. In your situation I would probably talk to a doctor about a prescription sleep aid, though, and I’d test it out ahead of time to make sure it works for you since people are so different in how they respond to sleep aids.

I’ve found that whichever ingredient is in Bedadryl prevents me from sleeping. I told my doctor about it and he said “Yeah, it does that to some people.”

Meclizine, the active ingredient in many OTC non-drowsy motion sickness medications like Bonine lets me fall asleep easily, yet is much gentler than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). The later two drugs usually leave me feeling pretty groggy the next morning, but with meclizine I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a cup of coffee and a shower. But antihistamines seem to have a wide range of effects on different people, so perhaps you’re best off experimenting beforehand.

As someone else has already said, why OTC? Two weeks should be plenty of time to get a prescription sleep aid from your doctor. There are many for him/her to choose from, they’re more effective than your OTC options and they’re not expensive. If your job has you traveling across the Pacific three times in two weeks, surely an extra $20 on sleep aids isn’t going to break the bank.