There are millions of people all over the world desperate for a good night's rest. Unfortunately, many of them decide to try and fix their sleep problems with over-the-counter sleep medications. Little do they know that they're actually doing more harm to themselves than good. Thanks to misleading advertising over the years along with a lack of medical knowledge, people have been duped into putting drugs into their bodies that are making it harder to get to sleep and harder to get the restorative rest they need. We're here to expose the truth about over the counter sleeping pills. If you really care about your overall health and wellness, then keep reading. You may never take one of these pills again!
There are so many different brands of over the counter sleeping pills out there that one would think they must all be different, right? As it turns out, that assumption is very, very wrong. The truth is that they all use the same main ingredient - diphenhydramine - in order to put you to bed. If you're skeptical, go ahead and look at the back of the boxes the next time you're at the drugstore. Look for the active ingredient section. We guarantee you'll see it there in either a 25 mg or 50 mg dose.
Diphenhydramine is far from the safest drug you can put into your body. But the unhealthful effects get even more dangerous when you combine it with some of the more common inactive ingredients in nighttime sleeping pills. Diphenhydramine is metabolized by your liver, and can cause a lot of damage if you take a lot of it over an extended period of time. But so can the pain relievers which are often mixed in with over-the-counter sleep drugs. Acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, also causes liver damage. If you're taking an NSAID, such as Advil PM, you're doing damage to your liver and your heart at the same time.
Diphenhydramine has an interesting origin story as well. When medical science first discovered this compound, it wasn't recognized for its sleep inducing effects. It was more well-known as an antihistamine. Antihistamines are a class of drugs which reduce the histamine response in the body when it is triggered by allergens. Antihistamines like Benadryl are the drugs you take to relieve yourself of the itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose you get if you have allergies. It wasn't until allergy sufferers started complaining about how their pills were making them sleepy that this secondary effect got noticed. The complaint was so common that the drug companies decided they could make even more money buy repackaging and rebranding diphenhydramine as a sleeping pill. From this, a new industry was born.
Taking diphenhydramine at night is a much more appropriate time to take the drug given its sleep-inducing effects. But what if you're taking diphenhydramine for allergy reasons? And what if you take it during the day because your allergy symptoms are making it harder to work? Hopefully you can see how this could be problematic for someone who has to operate heavy machinery or make important decisions. It can also be troublesome for someone who has a long work commute to/from the office. If you're drowsy while performing any of these activities, there could be serious consequences. People could get hurt or even die. And if they aren't well informed about diphenhydramine, they may not even know that they're putting themselves and others in that type of danger.
Other short-term consequences of diphenhydramine include:
If you've never used a sleeping pill at all, or if you only use them occasionally and infrequently, you may not have noticed very many of these symptoms - if at all. If you have been using a lot of over-the-counter sleep medications lately, you've probably already felt some of these symptoms. But the good news is that with infrequent use and cessation, these symptoms are reversible.
Unfortunately, the more often you take over the counter sleeping pills and the longer you take them, the more cumulative these effects will be. To add insult to injury, diphenhydramine is the type of drug which your body will build up a tolerance for over time. This means you'll have to take more and more in order to get the same effect.
We've already talked about how excessive use of diphenhydramine can cause liver damage. We've also talked about how the fact that it causes drowsiness can inhibit cognitive processes such as motor skills and decision-making. These may also be cumulative over time, too. Long-term studies in elderly Alzheimer's patients have shown a strong positive correlation between people who took diphenhydramine on a daily basis for decades and early onset age-related brain disease. Only through time and more studies will we know whether or not this is simply correlation or if diphenhydramine is causing the problem.
If you want to protect your liver, your brain, and protect your body from losing out on natural, quality sleep, you need to find healthier ways to get to sleep without pills. The easiest things to do are to exercise more, eat healthier food, and eliminate as much stress from your life is possible, and work on your sleep hygiene. For some people, obviously, these steps will be easier said than done. Exercising more will help you feel sleepy at night by tiring you out during the day. Eating healthier food will reduce the roller coaster of sugar crashes which may leave you napping during the day and lying wide awake at night. Things like mindfulness meditation have been scientifically proven to physically change the brain in ways that reduce stress and balance your mood. You may also want to look into reducing electric light exposure at night. This helps boost melatonin production and regulates your natural circadian day-night rhythm.
We understand how desperate some people feel when they can't get to sleep. But over the counter sleeping pills are obviously not the answer. Making positive, gradual changes to your daily routine is a great way make sure you can get better sleep at night without any drugs!
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