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Do Over-the-Counter PM Medications Work?

Posted On June 3, 2015
June 03, 2015

It has been eight straight days with very little to no sleep. You knew you should have been more careful putting those heavy boxes into your car. And the pain in your back is not allowing you to get into a comfortable position so you can sleep. Finally, at your wit’s end and as a last resort, you cave and drive over to your local pharmacy chain store to pick up over-the-counter PM medication. Eureka! You finally get a good night of sleep. Unfortunately, this solution is akin to a double-edged sword as weeks later you still need to take that PM med, at an increased dosage, in order to fall asleep. And now add to the mix the fact that you wake up periodically during the night.

It is estimated that close to 20 percent of Americans take over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid medication and a good majority do so every night. What causes the overwhelming feeling of drowsiness in these medications is diphenhydramine. It is an antihistamine that helps relieve allergy, hay fever and common cold symptoms with the side effect of making you sleepy. While diphenhydramine can prove beneficial for individuals with mild or infrequent insomnia, it is not helpful for someone with chronic insomnia. In addition, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the substance can cause daytime sleepiness (or hangover effect), dry mouth and throat, as well as other side effects such as confusion and difficulty urinating in older people.

If OTC sleep aids are taken for more than two straight weeks, it is important to realize that tolerance can develop. In fact, in order to get a good night of sleep, you need to take the medicine at a higher dosage. Not good, as this also increases the likelihood of developing side effects. You also need to be aware that OTC sleep aids can interact with other medications that you might be prescribed for other conditions. The effectiveness and safety of these seemingly non-harmful substances have yet to be proven and therefore remain unknown.

OTC sleep aids can be divided into two categories with and without anti-inflammatory pain relievers. These drugs can help as a temporary measure but it is not advisable to rely on them to solve your sleep problems. Even though you do not need a prescription to take these substances, they are still drugs and can become habit forming, which is more a psychological rather than a chemical dependence.

It is better to adopt healthy sleep habits such as:

  • Create a sleep haven.
  • Refrain from caffeine such as coffee, black tea or soda in the late afternoon.
  • Complete your last meal for the day at least 2 to 3 hours before getting under the bedcovers.
  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule, i.e. during the week and weekends go to sleep and wake up at the same time.

If you chronically take OTC sleep aids and still have problems sleeping, it might be time to seek out professional help. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.


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