The day after a night of tossing and turning can be pretty miserable. You feel irritable, forgetful, foggy-minded, and downright unproductive—just counting the hours until you can finally crawl back into bed. For the occasional restless night, over-the-counter (OTC) medicinal sleep-aids and sleep supplements can make great bedtime options, helping you drift off faster and get the restorative sleep you so desperately crave.

However, when it comes to sleep-promoting products, some people worry about whether or not it’s possible to become dependent on these products at bedtime. That’s why we’re sharing the key facts you should know about non-habit-forming sleep-aids below, including some common myths and what to look for to get the most out of your evening sleep support.

How Do Sleep-Aids Work?

Before we can answer the question of whether or not sleep-aids are “habit-forming,” it’s important to first understand how these products work. There are actually two different types of snooze-supporting options you can find at your local pharmacy or health store: over-the-counter medicinal sleep-aids (like Unisom® SleepGels®) and dietary sleep supplements (such as Unisom Simple Slumbers®).

To help keep things simple, we’re going to be focusing mostly on OTC medicinal sleep-aids, since this is where much of the confusion on this topic stems from. This type of sleep-aid works by using histamine-blocking ingredients, such as doxylamine succinate and diphenhydramine, to create a drowsy effect at bedtime. By blocking the effects of histamine in your body, these sleep-aids can help you doze off faster and sleep soundly through the night, when used correctly per the label’s instructions.

How Do Prescription Sleep Medications Work?

Prescription sleep medicines are considered stronger than OTC medicinal sleep-aids and must always be prescribed by a healthcare provider—meaning you won’t find them sold over-the-counter in stores. Prescription sleep medications (which are classified as sedative hypnotics) come in many variations, but often work by targeting gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that lowers nerve activity and can make you feel drowsy. Besides requiring a prescription, these drugs have many other key differences from OTC sleep-aids. They require a professional diagnosis, ongoing medical supervision for safety, and may also be prescribed for longer-term use in some cases.

Are prescription sleep medications habit-forming?

Although millions of Americans rely on them at night,1 prescription sleep medications sometimes contain ingredients (like benzodiazepine) which may be habit-forming. This can make it more difficult to fall asleep upon stopping use of certain prescription sleep medications (sometimes known as rebound insomnia) or even causing a temporary withdrawal effect (like nausea or sweating). However, although some sleep drugs can be habit-forming, this is not always the case. For this reason, it’s important to always consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and information on safe and non-habit-forming prescription options if needed.

Are OTC Medicinal Sleep-Aids Habit-Forming?

OTC medicinal sleep-aids are different from prescription sleep medications in many aspects, including the topic of dependency. As mentioned above, most medicinal sleep-aids sold over-the-counter use antihistamines as their main ingredients. So, why does this matter, exactly? Antihistamine sleep-aids (like doxylamine succinate and diphenhydramine) are largely considered to be “non-habit-forming,” because they do not cause physical dependence.

In other words, you won’t need to worry about becoming physically reliant on these products in order to doze off, as long as you use them as directed, and for short-term relief of occasional sleeplessness.

Are Unisom® sleep-aids considered non-habit-forming?

Unisom’s OTC medicinal sleep-aids and drug-free supplements are non-habit forming and safe when used as directed. Our OTC medicinal sleep-aids feature two non-habit-forming histamine blockers: doxylamine succinate in our clinically-tested SleepTabs®, and diphenhydramine HCl in our Unisom® SleepGels®, SleepMelts®, SleepMinis®, and PM Pain. Formulated to help you fall asleep and get the rest you need, Unisom products come in varied forms to fit your preferences—including mini capsules, soft gels, tablets, and even drug-free melatonin gummies.

Benefits of Non-Habit-Forming Sleep-Aids

Non-habit-forming sleep supplements and sleep-aids, like Unisom, have many benefits that might make them worth considering if you find yourself tossing and turning from time to time. Keep scrolling to learn how non-habit-forming sleep-aids may help you get some better Zzzs.

They’re easily accessible over-the-counter.

For one, these types of sleep-promoting products are easily accessible and can be purchased from your local pharmacy. Since they don’t require a prescription, it’s easy to integrate these sleep-promoting products into your lifestyle in a way that suits your needs and preferences (as long as the instructions are correctly followed). Always speak to your pharmacist or a healthcare provider if you have any questions regarding how to use these types of sleep products for the best slumber-inducing results.

They can be used as needed for occasional sleeplessness.

OTC medicinal sleep-aids offer a simple, yet effective bedtime option that empowers you to get the best sleep possible by offering convenience and flexibility. In other words, when used correctly, most healthy adults can take OTC medicinal sleep-aids as needed for occasional sleepless nights. This is a big plus when compared to prescription sleep medications, which can be difficult to stop taking—due to possible withdrawal symptoms—and must always be monitored by a healthcare professional. 

Remember: OTC medicinal sleep-aids are meant for short-term use. If you’re experiencing sleep troubles that persist continuously for more than two weeks, stop use and speak to your healthcare provider. This may be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition.

They’re safe when used as directed.

When taken as directed—per the instructions on the product’s label—OTC medicinal sleep-aids are considered safe for use by healthy adults. This is one major positive, making these products suitable for a wide range of people on those nights when you just can’t seem to drift off to sleep.

Sleep-aids may not be suitable for everyone. It’s always best to speak with a health professional when in doubt, to learn whether or not a nighttime sleep-aid is right for you.

Rest Assured

We know that losing sleep can be rough, but Unisom is here to help you find it—with a range of non-habit-forming options formulated to help you fall asleep fast, wake up less, and relieve minor aches and pains that may be keeping you up. As the #1 pharmacist- and doctor-recommended OTC sleep-aid brand, our non-habit-forming sleep-aids and our drug-free supplement are here to help you fall asleep and get the Zzzs you need.

Unisom Simple Slumbers® is our 100%-drug-free supplement, available in the following varieties: Simple Slumbers Gummies, Simple Slumbers Return to Sleep Strips, Simple Slumbers Immunity Gummies, and Simple Slumbers Restorative Sleep tablets. This product line features melatonin, which works with your body to help maintain its natural sleep cycle—and is formulated to help you fall asleep gently and wake up refreshed.†

Unisom® SleepGels®, SleepMelts®, SleepMinis®, and PM Pain all contain the histamine blocker sleep-aid diphenhydramine HCl. Blocking histamine production can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. PM Pain also contains the pain reliever acetaminophen, which helps relieve minor aches and pains that may keep you awake.

Unisom® SleepTabs® contain doxylamine succinate, which is a clinical-strength histamine blocker sleep-aid that works in a similar fashion to diphenhydramine. Unisom® SleepTabs® can help you fall asleep 33% faster and get a full night's sleep.

Find the Unisom product that’s right for you and download the Unisom Sleep Diary.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Unisom is only intended to help with occasional sleeplessness. If you are suffering from ongoing sleep concerns, seek the help of a medical professional.

Professional References

1. Harvard Health Publishing. “Learn the Risks of Sleep Aids.” Sleep, 2022.

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.