Short Acting Sleeping Pills For Flying: Ultimate Guide

Flying can be very stressful and tiring. This is why it’s likely for you to suffer from insomnia and anxiety, which some people choose to deal with by taking sleeping pills.

Popping a pill in the mouth helps to calm the nervous system as well as induce sleep, which is usually the smartest thing to do while on an airplane for a long time.

This article will discuss some of the most important matters about taking short-acting sleeping pills for flying.

There are some really popular short acting sleeping pills for flying available. Some that may ring a bell are Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta. Some people prefer more accessible ones such as Tylenol PM, Benadryl, NyQuil, and Unisom.

As you can see, there’s never a shortage of sleeping pills that can help you sleep in your seat during your flight.

But before you swallow one of the sleeping pills mentioned above, it’s a good idea for you to keep on reading this article. It’s for the fact that not all of them can be purchased simply by stepping foot inside the local pharmacy.

Also, there are things to keep in mind, such as side effects and withdrawal symptoms. They are likely to show up, especially if you opt for a sleeping pill that’s known to be addictive.

Below we will talk about practically everything you need to know about short-acting sleeping pills before you take one while heading to your destination on a plane.

Short Acting Means Minimal Unfavorable Side Effects

One of the reasons why a lot of people, including those who embark on long haul flights, are staying away from sleeping pills is that they are known to cause a bunch of side effects.

Some of the most common unfavorable effects of short acting sleeping pills for flying that may be experienced include but are not limited to:

  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth dryness
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Excess gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

The problem with sleeping pills is that the different side effects they produce not only show up once these drugs have worn off but also while they are taking effect.

For instance, a lot of people who pop sleeping pills in their mouths report having unusual or vivid dreams. Some even end up sleepwalking.

It’s a good thing that these unwanted side effects are less likely to be experienced if short acting sleeping pills are the ones taken. They are referred to as such because their primary effect, which is to make you fall asleep, doesn’t last for a really long time.

According to health experts, a sleeping pill that is regarded as short-acting can leave you snoring for about 4 hours only — that’s how short the sleep that you can get from it!

When and When Not to Take a Sleeping Pill

Definitely, sleeping on an airplane can make you look and feel wonderful the moment that you arrive at the destination. It’s also an excellent way to get rid of boredom because it gives your mind and body some rest, which is necessary in order for them to bounce back so much better from stress that traveling tends to bring.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should take a sleeping pill each time you travel by plane. Whether long or short acting, it’s not all the time that popping a pill in your mouth is a great idea.

Just like what was mentioned earlier in this article, a short-acting sleeping pill usually takes you to dreamland for only about 4 hours. You can expect a terrible experience if you take a short-acting sleeping pill, and your flight lasts for about a couple of hours only.

Nothing can leave you feeling crappy more than waking up so suddenly because you need to get off the plane. So, in other words, the intake of a short acting pill on a flight that’s shorter than 4 hours can certainly wreak havoc on your trip, whether it’s for business or pleasure.

On the other hand, you may take a short-acting sleeping pill on a long haul flight, which is something that usually lasts for longer than 7 hours.

This gives the pill plenty of time to do its job, while still leaving you with enough time to bounce back from a siesta that is only 4 hours long.

As a matter of fact, you may choose to take a long-acting sleeping pill instead if you are spending about half of your day thousands of feet from the ground so that you may get plenty of sleep — during a long haul flight, you may find the effect of short acting pill to be insufficient.

However, there is a very important thing that you need to know about short-acting sleeping pills in terms of their availability. Don’t stop reading now if you would like to know about it!

Some are Prescription While Others are OTC

It’s true that the effect of short acting sleeping pills last for about 4 hours only, which makes them excellent sleep aids for people who are traveling on a plane for 4 hours or even longer.

However, these short acting commodities differ from one another when it comes to how you could get your hands on them.

In other words, there are prescription short-acting sleeping pills, and then there are also over-the-counter (OTC) short-acting sleeping pills. The one that suits you the most depends on certain factors.

The name says it all — prescription short-acting sleeping pills are only available for those who have prescriptions from their doctors. Some of the most well-known examples of short-acting prescription pills include:

  • Ambien (zolpidem)
  • Sonata (zaleplon)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)

All of these short acting sleeping pills are considered as prescription drugs because their intake needs the supervision of the prescribing doctor.

There are some dangers associated with the wrong intake of these prescription short acting sleeping pills, and a lot of them are much worse than not getting some sleep on a plane or elsewhere.

In addition, these drugs are known to be addictive. Withdrawal symptoms are also matters that are involved with the intake of prescription short-acting sleeping pills or any other drug.

Put simply, withdrawal symptoms are unfavorable or unpleasant reactions of the body to the cessation of the intake of addictive drugs.

Clearly, there are benefits as well as dangers that come with the intake of short-acting sleeping pills that are available only with the prescription of a doctor.

sleeping pills
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The good news is that aside from prescription short-acting sleeping pills, there are also OTC counterparts that you may purchase and take even without a doctor’s prescription.

Some really popular examples of these OTC short-acting sleeping pills for flying are:

  • Tylenol PM (acetaminophen and diphenhydramine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • NyQuil (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine)
  • Unisom (doxylamine)

OTC Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Pills Are Safer

Some of the OTC short-acting sleeping pills commonly used for flying are evidently not primarily intended for making a person get some Z’s.

For instance, Tylenol PM is just like regular Tylenol in that it’s meant for reducing pain as well as fever. However, Tylenol PM has added ingredients that help to promote sleep, which makes it suitable for intake before bedtime to encourage sleep despite the presence of pain or fever.

It’s no secret that Benadryl is intended for relieving cough and colds. The drug is also commonly taken for dealing with an assortment of allergy symptoms such as the runny nose, watery eyes, itching, and rash.

However, its active ingredient can cause drowsiness, and that’s why Benadryl is also sometimes recommended for people with insomnia.

Refrain from assuming that just because Tylenol PM, Benadryl, NyQuil, and Unisom are all OTC, they can be taken to your heart’s content.

Even though you can get your hands on them even without presenting a prescription from your doctor, it is still very important for you to take them properly.

Meaning to say, you should follow the directions for use printed on the packaging. A pharmacist, nurse, or physician may be consulted about how to properly take these OTC medications that can be used as short-acting pills for flying.

Here are some of the common side effects of these OTC drugs:

  • Drowsiness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Headaches

Especially if you have a medical condition, whether or not you are taking prescription drugs for it, asking your primary health care provider about the intake of OTC drugs to help you get some much-needed sleep while on an airplane is important in order to make sure that you are out of harm’s way in your desire to have some shut-eye.

All-Natural Supplements Available For Sleeping

Worry not if both prescription and OTC short-acting sleeping pills come with a bunch of unfavorable side effects and also risks such as being hooked on them or encountering withdrawal symptoms. That’s because they are not your only options when it comes to enjoying some sleep while flying.

Are you aware that there are so many supplements out there that are known to help encourage sleep?

Needless to say, pharmaceutical solutions are not the only ones that you may pop in your mouth if you would like to take a trip to dreamland while waiting for the plane to land at the airport.

Online or offline, there is never a shortage of sleep aids that are 100% natural and that is why they tend to appeal to a lot of health-conscious people.

Melatonin is perhaps the most popular of these natural sleep aids. If truth be told, this hormone is naturally produced by the body — it’s the one responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle nine.

Your body produces more melatonin when the sun goes down, and the temperature drops. This signals your nervous system to take it easy in order to encourage sleep.

On the other hand, when the sun goes up, your body generates less melatonin in order to have the nervous system activated, which results in alertness.

Difficulty with falling asleep is sometimes due to having insufficient amounts of melatonin in the body at night. This is when the benefit of supplementing with melatonin becomes clear as crystal.

Evidently, swallowing a melatonin pill a couple of hours before going to bed can help to boost melatonin levels in the body and thus increase one’s chance of having a good night’s sleep.

Aside from melatonin, there are so many other supplements that may be taken if you would like to fall asleep, whether you are on a plane or in your bedroom. Some common examples are:

  • Magnesium
  • Valerian root
  • Passionflower
  • Lavender
  • Ginkgo biloba

These natural sleep aids work in different manners. For instance, magnesium works by relaxing your muscles and telling your nervous system to calm down.

On the other hand, valerian root, passionflower, lavender, and ginkgo biloba help to reduce stress and anxiety, both of which can keep you from having a restorative kind of sleep.

Care Must Be Taken When Taking Supplements

Just like OTC short-acting sleeping pills, supplements should also be taken in the correct manner. It is a fact that these products are obtained from nature, and that is why they are less likely to put your health in some form of danger.

However, they are also capable of causing some unwanted side effects. This is most especially true if you take them at doses that are higher than what’s recommended by their manufacturers.

Natural supplements may also interact with certain drugs. For instance, it is possible for some of them to keep prescription drugs from doing their job.

There is also a possibility for them to increase or multiply the side effects of certain drugs.

Passionflower, for instance, is known to be very good at making you feel drowsy. If you are taking an antihistamine for your allergy, then it is possible for you to experience severe drowsiness as both passionflower and antihistamine have drowsy effects.

Definitely, consulting your primary health care provider before taking any supplement, be it for sleep purposes or something else, is essential in order to make sure that nothing serious is going to happen to you.

By the way, there are some important things that you need to know about the use of supplements to help you get some much-needed sleep on a plane.


Unlike most prescription and OTC short-acting sleeping pills, supplements do not work very quickly.

Oftentimes, some of these supplements work about an hour to half an hour after taking them by mouth.

If your flight lasts for only an hour, then it’s pretty much useless to take any of these supplements.

Then there are also those that have to be taken on a regular basis — the goal is to allow them to build up in your system.

Labeling Properly

Supplements have to be properly labeled before placing them in your carry-on luggage.

Of course, you don’t want airport security to suspect you of bringing illegal drugs on an airplane.

It is true that vitamins and supplements can be taken with you when flying, but it is a good idea to ensure that they won’t cause any problem along the way.

To be safe, consider putting your supplements in the container that they came in when you purchased them.

Just Before You Fly and Take a Short Acting Sleeping Pill

As you can see, you have so many short acting sleeping pills to choose from if you would like to catch some shut-eye while seated on a plane for several hours.

There are prescription ones, and there are also those that you can purchase even without a prescription from your doctor.

Then there are also sleep aids that come in the form of supplements. Of all the perks associated with them, nothing is as noteworthy as they’re being 100% natural.

However, this does not mean that they are safer for you to take than prescription or OTC short acting sleeping pills. Whether the ingredients are manufactured in the laboratory or harvested from nature, it is very important to take anything that can promote sleep in the correct manner.


No matter your choice of short acting sleeping pill for flying, there is one thing that you should always keep in mind. It’s none other than the length of your flight.

Health experts confirm that most prescription and OTC short acting sleeping pills work for about 4 hours only. This is why you should consider taking any of them only if your plane ride is longer than 4 hours.

Taking a short acting sleeping pill while on an airplane that will be thousands of feet from the ground in less than 4 hours will only leave you feeling terrible as soon as you force yourself to wake up to get off the plane.

It is during a long haul flight when it’s a good idea for you to pop a short acting sleeping pill in your mouth.

This is most especially true if you could use some restorative sleep to bounce back from stress, anxiety, and fatigue that are commonly encountered when flying.

For flights that are longer than 7 hours, you may consider getting a prescription for a long-acting sleeping pill so that you may be able to spend much of your time on a plane dreaming.

Image by Christian Trick from Pixabay

Reed Harris

Reed is a traveler and blogger. He's planning to visit all states in the USA. He's been in 31 states so far.

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