If you’ve ever had a sleepless night, but couldn’t get (or didn’t want) a prescription sleep medication from your doctor, you may have been tempted to buy yourself a supply of over-the-counter sleeping pills. Some of you who are reading this may have actually done it, and received some sort of benefit from taking them. But these sleep aids aren’t always 100% safe. Furthermore, their claims that you will wake up “feeling alert and refreshed”, along with stating that their product is “non-habit forming” aren’t always the case. Below, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly your typical drug store sleeping pill is, what it does to the human body, and why you should probably think twice the next time you’re tempted to take one to relieve your restless nights.
There’s Really Only One Type of Sleeping Pill (Yes, Really)
When you look at the virtual wall of different sleeping pills for sale on the shelves of your local drug store, you naturally assume that every single product has a different active ingredient (or ingredients) which make it unique, right? After all, if they were all the same, why would there be so many to choose from?
Well, here’s a strange but true fact that the sleeping pill industry has been keeping a secret from the public for a very long time: in reality, all sleeping pills truly are the same. Sure, they may vary by their packaging, their fillers, and the company which markets them. But they all contain the same active ingredient: diphenhydramine.
Diphenhydramine only ever ended up being a sleeping pill by pure accident – kind of like how we have penicillin today because one lazy scientist was too much of a slob to clean up the mold in his kitchen. Unlike penicillin, however, over-the-counter sleeping pills aren’t a panacea for sleeplessness.
In the beginning, medical experts were experimenting with and investigating diphenhydramine as a cure for allergies. And they were successful in their endeavors. Today, diphenhydramine is most well-known as an anti-allergy medication named Benadryl. Millions of people who want to avoid itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and more swear by this product and the way it relieves their symptoms. However, in the early days, many of them complained that this medication was making them sleepy. The complaints were so common and so overwhelming that drug companies eventually got the bright idea to rebrand diphenhydramine as a sleeping pill in order to essentially double their profits. They started making money off of not just allergy sufferers, but people who have trouble sleeping at night, as well. But the cost to the consumer is greater than you might think.
What Does This Chemical, Diphenhydramine, Do?
Sure, diphenhydramine makes you sleepy. It also helps alleviate allergy symptoms. But there are some other, more insidious side effects which may also come along with taking this sleeping pill. And the more dependent you become upon it, the worst these side effects will get:
- Dry eye/blurry vision
- Painful urination
- Difficult and/or reduced urine output
- Pounding heartbeat
- Upset stomach
- Next day grogginess
“But How can a product which promises that you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested make you sleepy the next day?” you may be asking. Well, not everyone’s body metabolizes diphenhydramine the same way. Some may metabolize it too fast and wake up in the middle of the night, making it difficult to get back to sleep. This sleep cycle disruption can easily cause next-day drowsiness. Furthermore, some people may metabolize it too slowly and still be under its effects the next day. In either case, if you have to drive a long commute on your way to work or if you operate heavy machinery for a living, this sleep deprivation can get very dangerous, very quickly.
Those are only the acute effects, though. Even though most drug companies insist that their over the counter sleeping pills are not habit forming, people can develop a dependence upon them regardless – even if it’s just an emotional or anxiety-driven one.
There haven’t been many long-term studies done about how diphenhydramine affects the body over years or decades of dependent use. But the few studies that exist are a little scary. Recent scientific examinations of elderly patients who had been taking diphenhydramine daily for years (due to allergy symptoms) have shown a strong correlation between the drug and accelerated brain aging. They were statistically more likely to develop brain and nerve damage – the type of damage which could lead to alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, and nerve pain, among other things – and at an earlier age, too. To be fair, it could be a coincidence. These studies did not show cause and effect. They just pointed out that the two variables (taking diphenhydramine and developing brain/nerve damage) are more likely to happen side-by-side then not. But it does wave a giant red flag, and certainly necessitates further study.
There Are Better, Safer Sleep Aids Out There
What if we told you that there was a safer, better way to help you avoid tossing and turning all night? Well, the good news is that yes, there is! For starters, there are certain health hacks – such as practicing good sleep hygiene and/or improving your diet – that can help your body adjust to a healthy sleep schedule. But if you still need a little extra assistance, you should think about investing in a high-quality herbal sleep remedy.
There are lots of affordable, natural sleep aids out there which harness the power of Mother Nature to alleviate your sleep problems. They contain botanical ingredients and extracts which help regulate your sleep hormones, reduce stress, and lull your body into a relaxed state. And best of all, they’re much more affordable than constantly purchasing box after bottle of over the counter sleeping pills. If you’re curious about such products, we’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction! Just keep checking back for further blog updates and tons more info.