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Over-the-counter Sleep Aids Aren't as Safe as You Think They Are

Millions of sleepless consumers purchase over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills each and every day. And if you're one of them, you may be putting your health at risk. There are some scary details regarding these "safe" drugs that most people don't know about. And once you learn about these sleep aid secrets, you may never want to buy a sleeping pill ever again!

Sleeping Pills Are All the Same (Yes, All of Them)

Do yourself a favor: the next time you're at the drugstore looking for a sleeping pill, pick a few different products and flip to the active ingredients label on the back of the box. You're going to notice one main active ingredient over and over on each and every nighttime sleep aid: diphenhydramine. Sure, the PM pain relievers may contain different analgesics (the fancy term for a pain-relieving medication sold over the counter), but every single pill at the drugstore sold with the intention of helping you sleep will contain some amount of diphenhydramine.

Originally, diphenhydramine was discovered to be a powerful antihistamine that helped alleviate the symptoms associated with common allergies. At some point, people noticed that this antihistamine also made people exceptionally drowsy. And when the manufacturers of allergy medications containing diphenhydramine realized this, they did what most corporations do best - they rebranded and repackaged their product and sold it as something else in order to make more money.

So what's the problem with selling the same drug under a different name for a different purpose? Well, for starters, people who are using diphenhydramine to treat their sleeping problems might not be aware of its alternative uses. This can become an issue if, for example, they have histamine problems and cannot take antihistamine drugs for medical reasons. There are also some unfortunate - and sometimes dangerous - side effects that most people would not normally associate with a sleeping pill, but they might with an allergy pill. If you're wondering what those side effects may be, then go ahead and keep reading.

Diphenhydramine Side Effects

It practically goes without saying that the main side effect of diphenhydramine is drowsiness. But it has a whole other bunch of side effects, too. Those include:

  • Painful/difficult urination or reduced urine output
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Dry eye/blurred vision
  • Upset stomach

Extreme drowsiness the next day, often lasting for several hours. Some refer to this phenomenon as the "Diphenhydramine-hangover"

Thankfully, most of these symptoms are associated with short-term use, and can be reduced or eliminated once you stop taking the pills. But if you take sleeping pills almost every night in order to help yourself sleep, or if you suffer from chronic allergies and are taking an antihistamine on a daily basis (such as Benadryl), there's a very real potential that you could suffer adverse complications over the long-term.

Some newer studies suggest that drugs like diphenhydramine could have very serious negative effects on your brain health as you age. New scientific data has identified a strong correlation between seniors with dementia and people who have taken diphenhydramine over many years. Granted, correlation does not always mean causation. But the fact that diphenhydramine cases drowsiness strongly implies that it may have a (potentially negative) neurological effect on the brain.

Sleeping pills can also cause disastrous health consequences for anyone with a certain health affliction, or anyone who is taking a specific medication which may react badly with diphenhydramine. If you're having sleep problems, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before you resort to a drug store solution. Only a medical professional can tell you whether a drugstore sleeping pill is safe for you to take or not.

You don't have to be taking specific medications or suffering from a serious health condition in order for sleeping pills to have a potentially fatal effect. Over-the-counter sleeping pills can be dangerous even for healthy people who aren't currently on any prescription medications. Simply taking a dangerously large dose could be enough to put someone in a coma, cause serious brain damage, or result in death.

Are There Safe Alternatives?

For those who are worried about (or cannot afford) prescription sleep aids, there are safe and affordable alternatives to over-the-counter sleep medication. Next time you're shopping online, look for natural sleep aids which contain botanical extracts that have a long history of calming, sedative effects. Some of these extracts include chamomile, melatonin, hops, and passion flower. But these are not the only herbs and natural compounds which can help you sleep at night. Learn more.

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