While sleep-related medicine is considered a branch in itself in terms of an area of study and expertise, usually the average person’s experience, when it comes to treating insomnia, lies in over-the-counter medications meant to force the body to sleep for the same night in which the medicine was taken. Then for each night insomnia persists, the medicine is to be taken again until hopefully whatever is keeping you up has passed.
Common brands of medicines often have ‘night-time’ versions that induce drowsiness after consumption as a side-effect. But in a way, these side-effects are intentional because they are meant to help you sleep in addition to whatever the medicine is trying to do. While there is nothing inherently wrong with taking medication meant to help you sleep, there are negative consequences to not falling asleep naturally and relying on a chemical to lull you to sleep.
Insomnia is more often a symptom of another condition than the problem itself. Usually people can’t fall asleep because they are in pain, they are worried about events in their lives, or they simply have too much energy. Sleep aids do not actually cure the subject, but instead form a dependency over time as people feel they ‘need’ the medicine to sleep rather than curing the actual problem. Also, some sleep aids form a chemical addiction in their consumers who need them over a long period of time, creating a problem in themselves as people who might be cured of whatever caused the insomnia in the first place now are kept awake due to the chemical imbalance introduced by the medication.
In the end, OTC sleep medication should be taken for the very short term and only in situations where you know you will suffer greatly without it, like trying to ‘sleep off’ a bad fever. It should be a last resort whenever possible in order to avoid the consequences of addiction. And if insomnia persists for a week or more despite taking OTC medication to help you sleep, you should see a doctor.