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Over the Counter Sleep Aids

Over-the-counter sleep aids are marketed as a safe, effective and non-habit-forming option to insomnia. Approximately 15-20% of American adults take a nonprescription sleep aid in any given month and the variety of brands on the market are deceiving since most contain the same active ingredients but are repackaged under various trade names.

Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids

Over-the-counter sleep aids are marketed as a safe, effective and non-habit-forming option to insomnia. Approximately 15-20% of American adults take a nonprescription sleep aid in any given month and the variety of brands on the market are deceiving since most contain the same active ingredients but are repackaged under various trade names.

All antihistamines block histamine receptors which is why they are often used for allergies.  Histamine is released by cells in response to allergies or inflammatory reactions. However, if antihistamines are taken regularly for sleep or allergies dependence can occur, increasing anxiety, memory issues, high blood pressure, sleep issues, cognitive function and coordination problems. 

Antihistamines Interactions

Antihistamines can interact with benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, antidepressants, muscle relaxers, narcotics, seizure medication and other classifications of medications, increasing the adverse side effects and altering how other medications are processed in the liver.  Antihistamine withdrawal symptoms can include interruptions in sleep patterns, Itching and burning sensations (Pruritus), anxiety and mental changes.  Some find it necessary to slowly reduce the dose over a number of weeks or months.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) in 2017 recommended against treating insomnia with antihistamine and analgesic sleep aids due to the risk of side effects that include daytime sleepiness, grogginess, falls, blurred vision, incontinence, memory or cognitive problems.  Most sleep aids are known as anticholinergics what have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Antihistamine Sleep Aids
Containing Diphenhydramine:

Benadryl
Tylenol PM
Aleve PM
ZzzQuil
Sominex
Motrin PM

Containing Doxylamine Succinate:

Unisom
Ultra Sleep
Wal-Som

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/drugstore-sleep-aids-may-bring-more-risks-than-benefits
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025184/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667286/



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