CONSUMER REPORTS: OTC sleep aids

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Tara Matthews has had chronic insomnia on and off for years. She relied on over the counter sleep aids to help her fall asleep.

Matthews says, “When I can’t fall asleep, it makes me very anxious because I know how much I have to do the next day. “

What Tara didn’t know is that over-the-counter sleep aids typically contain diphenhydramine and doxylamine -- antihistamines that can make you sleepy.

Lisa Gill with Consumer Reports says, “Although these ingredients are not physically addictive, there can be a risk of psychological dependency.

In fact a Consumer Reports national survey found 20 percent have taken over-the-counter sleep medication within a year. And in that group, almost 1 in 5 took them on a daily basis. Most concerning: 41 percent said they took them for a year or longer.

At the time of their approval as over-the-counter sleep aids, there was not enough evidence to show that the drugs caused dependence, so the label “non-habit forming” still remains.

The FDA tells Consumer Reports using a sleep aid for two weeks or less at the labeled dose makes it “very unlikely that the consumer will become dependent on it.”

But Tara says she’s not convinced. She says, “Maybe I would have looked for alternatives sooner.”

Over-the-counter sleep aids also carry warnings. They can cause serious side effects like next-day drowsiness, dizziness and confusion.

Frequent use can also increase the risk of dementia and even Alzheimer's disease. If your insomnia is persistent, it's time to see your doctor.