• Dangers of OTC Medication as a Sleep Aid: Antihistamines

    by Lauren King, PsyD
    on Oct 9th, 2017

Dangers of OTC Medication as a Sleep Aid: Antihistamines

By Lauren King, PsyD

You may have heard of people taking an antihistamines (e.g., diphenhydramine) to help them sleep. Many over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid medications contain diphenhydramine. Even though drowsiness is a side effect of antihistamines (like Benadryl), experts caution against using this OTC cold/allergy medication as a sleep aid.


Antihistamines have side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, and altered mental state. As adults age, the risks for side effects of an antihistamine are increased. Other side effects include dizziness, headaches, appetite changes, vomiting, weakness, and nervousness. Even though an antihistamine may help you to fall asleep given the sedating effect, taking this type of drug actually reduces your overall sleep quality. You may wake not feeling rested in the morning after taking an antihistamine. 


The potential side effects are not the only concern for OTC antihistamines. Also of concern are potential interactions with other medications you may be taking. 


Two important points when considering using an antihistamine such as Benadryl as a sleep aid: 


  1. Recent research is suggesting long-term use of antihistamines is linked to increased cognitive impairment, such as significant memory problems.


  1. Long-term benefits of taking an antihistamine like Benadryl for insomnia have not been scientifically proven.


Always consult your physician before taking a medication (even over the counter) that may affect your sleep. If you would like to consult with one of our sleep providers to find other alternatives to treat your insomnia, please call Bluepoint Medical Associates today at 703-385-8222.



Gray, S. L., Anderson, M. L., Dublin, S., et al. (2015). Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: A prosepective cohort study.  JAMA Intern Med, 175(3): 401-407. 

Author Lauren King, PsyD Licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT-I Provider

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