• Many allergy sufferers know that antihistamines work for their symptoms but also make them sleepy.
• But the use of medication to force children or adults to sleep is generally not the best idea.
For people who take an antihistamine such as Benadryl or piriton for a cold or allergies, drowsiness is often a welcome side effect.
To some, they go to the extent of abusing over-the-counter drugs to counter the loss of sleep.
But a Nairobi based medical practitioner John Kamau cautions against turning to this type of medication as a sleep aid.
“Many allergy sufferers know that antihistamines work for their symptoms but also make them sleepy. People sometimes turn to these medications to help them sleep, even when they’re not sick. But the use of medication to force children or adults to sleep is generally not the best idea,” said Dr Kamau
Antihistamines have side effects that include altered mental state, urinary retention and dry mouth. While these side effects are generally mild and well-tolerated in young patients without other medical problems, they can pose a risk, especially for the elderly.
“Use of antihistamines can lead to sleepwalking and other parasomnias. That can definitely occur with Benadryl just as with other hypnotic agents like Ambien,” Kamau said.
While antihistamines may help you to fall asleep, overall sleep quality is usually not very good, he said. Sometimes, they even have the opposite effect and cause hyperactivity, especially in children.
“Using Benadryl or an antihistamine for sleep has no long term benefit,” Kamau said.
“Most people develop a tolerance very quickly and will start to abuse the drugs to get any sleep.”
Many over-the-counter sleep aids are simply antihistaminic drugs repackaged and labelled as something to help you achieve sleep, he cautioned.
Kamau recommends that people who suffer from long-term insomnia visit a physician or sleep disorders specialist to address the problem, which could result from medical issues such as lack of sleep, depression, low blood pressure, difficulty in passing urine, muscle twitching, irritability, loss of appetite, muscle weakness.
“For many people, insomnia is short-term due to a stressful event or family problems. In this context, for a brief period, it’s not unreasonable to consider pharmacological agents to help you get to sleep but even in this situation people should consult a physician to determine what medication might work best,” Kamau said.
He said that piriton should be avoided by breastfeeding mothers as its content may pass through breastmilk.
“If you have diabetes, be aware that piriton syrup contains sugar. Prolonged use for long periods could cause tooth decay, so be sure to clean your teeth regularly,” he said.
Kamau advised incorporating lifestyle changes by including physical activities in your daily routine, limiting the daytime naps, paying attention to how much and what you eat before bed and also sticking to a sleep schedule.
Edited by D Tarus