Benadryl is a common over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine used to treat allergies, the common cold, hay fever, and itchy skin, but its active ingredient, diphenhydramine, is also known to cause drowsiness.
“Diphenhydramine blocks the effects of histamine in the brain and this reduces symptoms. It enters the brain in large quantities and this can make you feel drowsy,” explains the UK’s National Health Services (NHS). “Diphenhydramine also blocks the effects of another chemical called acetylcholine,” a neurotransmitter that excites nerve cells in the brain.
For this reason, some people use Benadryl as an off-label sleep aid. However, many experts caution against using antihistamines to help you fall asleep, especially at night. Read on to learn what happens if you take Benadryl before bed every night, including some serious side effects that could put you in danger.
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Benadryl really does make you sleepy, but using it as a sleep aid might not go quite as planned. Second James WalkerMD, a physician and contract medical consultant for Welzo, that’s because Benadryl causes “significant sedation and sleepiness, which may persist into the next day. This can interfere with daily activities.”
It’s especially important to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery while taking Benadryl, adds Poison Control. “Benadryl may impair hand-eye coordination and reaction time due to drowsiness,” making serious accidents more likely, their experts warn.
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Another potential side effect of taking Benadryl every night is that it can lead to cognitive decline. In fact, a 2015 report published in the magazine JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that people who took benadryl or a similar anticholinergic drug for three years or more had a 54 percent higher risk of dementia than those who took the drug for three months or less.
“Benadryl can impair cognitive function, including memory and attention. It can lead to difficulty concentrating and performing tasks that require mental alertness,” warns Walker.
If you take Benadryl every night as a sleep aid, you may also be at an increased risk for falling. “Benadryl can affect balance and coordination, making people more prone to falls, especially in older adults. This risk is further increased when combined with other sedating substances such as alcohol,” says Walker.
In fact, Harvard Medical School has listed Benadryl as one of the drugs most likely to increase the risk of falling. “Central nervous system-suppressing drugs are among those most likely to contribute to falls, as they reduce alertness and cause slower reactions and movements,” explain their experts.
Prolonged use of Benadryl has also been known to cause some bladder problems, warns Walker. In particular, he says that this type of antihistamine can cause urinary retention, which makes it difficult to completely empty the bladder. “This can be especially concerning for people with preexisting urinary problems or an enlarged prostate,” he says The best life.
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Lastly, using Benadryl as a nighttime sleep aid can cause harm to your health if you take certain other medications. Specifically, Walker notes that Benadryl can interact dangerously with sedatives, tranquilizers, and some antidepressants. “These interactions can intensify the sedative effects and increase the risk of adverse reactions,” he says.
Instead of opting for a nightly Benadryl, Walker suggests talking to your doctor to determine what’s causing your insomnia. “It’s crucial to remember that using Benadryl or any other sleep medication should be temporary and under the guidance of a healthcare professional,” he says. “Chronic insomnia or persistent sleep difficulties should be evaluated by a healthcare professional to identify and address any underlying causes or conditions.”
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research and healthcare agencies, but our content is not intended to replace career guidance. When it comes to the medication you are taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your doctor directly.
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