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Are Over the Counter Sleeping Pills Really Safe? The Answer May Surprise You

Somewhere between 10% and 15% of the US population uses over the counter sleeping pills in order to help with their sleepless nights. On average, that's around 50 million people. That's right - tens of millions of US citizens are experiencing such severe sleep disturbances that they're willing to forgo a doctor's appointment and purchase a solution at their nearest pharmacy.

But is this as good of an idea as sleeping pill manufacturers want us to believe? There are a lot of things about over-the-counter sleep medications that most people don't know. And the less you know about how these drugs work, the more you may be putting your health at risk.

OTC Sleeping Pills

Active Ingredients in Today's OTC Sleep Medications

The term "ingredients", expressed in plural form, is a bit misleading. Many people believe that, from one sleeping pill to another, each formula is unique, different, and can help them get to sleep in ways that competitor's sleep medications cannot. But the dirty truth is this: every single over-the-counter sleep medication uses the exact same active ingredient.

That ingredient is an antihistamine drug known as diphenhydramine. If you don't believe us, then the next time you're at the pharmacy, go walk down the aisle where they keep their sleeping pills and start looking at the backs of the boxes. Aside from the nighttime pain relievers, which include diphenhydramine plus and analgesic (usually naproxen or acetaminophen, which can be extremely toxic to the liver), every single sleeping pill you see in that aisle uses the exact same chemical in order to knock you out at night.

Dangerous Side Effects of Diphenhydramine

One of the biggest concerns with diphenhydramine is that it was never intended to be used as a sleep aid. You may know diphenhydramine better under its brand name: Benadryl. That's right - the medication that 50 million Americans use to sleep at night is actually an allergy medication. Somewhere along the line, though, companies who sold Benadryl and its generics noticed customers complaining of drowsiness. From there, some intrepid businessman decided to repackage the drug as a sleeping pill so that the company could make more profits.

But what's the danger, you may be asking, if it does help people get to sleep at night? Well, first of all, there's the short-term danger that has to do with the drug's half life. If you've ever taken a sleeping pill hoping for a good night's rest but waking up groggy in the morning, then you've experienced a "diphenhydrahangover". Sadly, these "hangovers" are much more common than sleeping pill manufacturers would like you to believe. this is because the half life of diphenhydramine is anywhere from 9-14 hours. This means that from the moment you take the pill, you may still be feeling its sedative effects anywhere from 9 to 14 hours later. And don't forget all of the other unpleasant and inconvenient side effects of these pills, such as dry mouth, dizziness, and even headaches.

Furthermore, the side effects only get worse the longer you take it. Your body eventually builds up a tolerance to the drug, forcing you to take more and more of it each night in order to get the same effect. And the more you take, the worse it will be for your brain health. A study of elderly individuals recently revealed that people who have been using sedative antihistamines for many years were at a higher risk of developing dementia. This may be one of the reasons that sleeping pill manufacturer suggest you take their product for no longer than two weeks at a time.

Sleeping Pills Hangover

Aren't There Any Safe Alternatives?

Thankfully, yes, there are. If you're thinking that our next statement is going to laud the safety and effectiveness of prescription sleep medications, you would be wrong. Prescription sleeping pills have their own unique dangers and side effects (which we will explain in another article). But instead of having to rely on either type of medication in order to help you get a good night's sleep, do yourself a favor and try a natural solution first. Herbal sleep aids, such as Avinol PM and others, are a safe, gentle, and effective way to relax you in the evening and help you fall asleep fast. You won't become addicted to them, and you'll feel refreshed and energized the next day. Above all, they're much more affordable compared to other sleep medications - so what do you have to lose?

Wake Up Refreshed