Are you one of the millions of sleepless people desperately reaching for an over the counter sleeping pill in order to fix your insomnia problems? Well, it may not be doing as much good as you think. As a matter of fact, it might be as dangerous - or worse - than getting no sleep at all. Although everyone thinks that OTC sleep medication is safe just because you don't need a prescription, there's some disturbing signs that maybe it's not. If you still have a full box of these meds somewhere in your house, you might end up chucking them in the trash by the time you're done reading this article.
Despite the scores of different sleeping pills that line your local drug store shelves, all of them rely on one main ingredient in order to make you sleepy. That ingredient is called diphenhydramine. If you don't believe us, go ahead and check the next time you are at your favorite drugstore. It's easy to flip over the box and look at the ingredients on the back of it.
Yes, we are aware that night time pain relievers also include other ingredients besides diphenhydramine. But these can be even more dangerous than a regular sleeping pill. Nighttime pain relievers contain large doses of drugs like acetaminophen (which can cause liver damage) or NSAIDs (which are bad for your heart). Furthermore, if somebody has an old dusty box of [Insert Popular Brand Name Here] PM, but they're not currently suffering from any painful maladies, they may be tempted to take excess dosages of these drugs just to alleviate their sleep problems. Over time, this is incredibly dangerous and can cause serious health problems.
The funny thing about diphenhydramine is that it was not originally intended to be a sleeping pill. As a matter of fact, its initial use was for allergy relief. In the beginning, it was found that the antihistamine properties of diphenhydramine were extremely successful at helping people with watery eyes, sneezing, and other unpleasant symptoms common with mild allergies. It wasn't until allergy sufferers started reporting en masse that the product was also making them sleepy that drug companies decided to repackage the product. This is actually a very common practice for drug companies. It's the same as a prescription drug company allowing doctors to prescribe certain substances "off label" in order to make more money.
This business practice may seem innocent enough, but there can be some real world consequences for people who aren't reading the fine print on their drug labels. For example, there are people out there who have very strong, negative reactions to taking antihistamine drugs. If they don't believe that they're taking an antihistamine because the box says it's a sleeping pill, they could have an adverse reaction which may endanger their health. There are other dangerous side effects of sleeping pills that most people are unaware of, whether they're intentionally taking it for insomnia or trying to alleviate their allergy symptoms. We'll get to those next.
Naturally, the first and most obvious side effect of diphenhydramine is that it makes you drowsy. If you take it at night to go to sleep, then there's really nothing wrong with that. It's working as intended. But unlike what sleeping pill commercials would have you believe, that drowsiness doesn't always stop when you wake up the next morning. Lots of people report waking up feeling groggy and fatigued, despite the fact that they think they got plenty of sleep the night before. This can be dangerous if you need to drive to work a short time later or operate heavy machinery on the job. Diphenhydramine can also cause other unpleasant side effects:
There is some good news, however: these symptoms go away very quickly and are very unlikely to return if you only take these pills for a short time. However, there is a sizeable population of people who use and abuse sleeping pills to excess. Furthermore, there are some unfortunate souls out there who have to take antihistamines on a daily basis just to function like a normal human being. Over time, this drug has cumulative effects. And these effects can sometimes be deadly.
Some of these cumulative effects alter the human brain, and they can become quite severe over the long haul. There are some new studies out there showing an uncannily strong correlation between older individuals suffering from dementia and those who have nearly a lifelong history taking diphenhydramine. To be fair, there is a very significant difference in the scientific community between correlation and causation. But due to the fact that diphenhydramine does have a noticeable neurological effect on the body (i.e. drowsiness), it's highly likely that scientists will find a causal link in the near future.
Some people may feel like there aren't very many alternatives to over-the-counter sleep medications out there. There are prescription drugs designed to treat insomnia, but they can be very expensive. Procuring them can also be a time-consuming process if it takes a long time to make a doctor's appointment. And they have their own dangers.
However, there are safe and healthy alternatives to both options. There are lots of natural sleep aids out there which contain herbal ingredients that help relax your mind and body. They can gently lull you into a good, restful night's sleep without causing negative side effects or making you feel drowsy the next morning. What's better is that unlike other types of sleep drugs, they will not interrupt your natural sleep cycle. Prescription sleep aids and over the counter medications have a bad reputation for doing so, and it can make you feel like you didn't even get any sleep at all the next morning.
If you're ready to learn more about how a safe, natural herbal sleep aid can improve the quantity of your rest, click here.