Why Antihistamines Are Not the Best for Sleep
Countless people take antihistamines to help them sleep. They are a go-to remedy due to their widespread use and accessibility. Given their widespread use, understanding their mechanisms and potential drawbacks is essential.
What are Antihistamines?
Antihistamines primarily function by blocking histamine. Histamine, a neurotransmitter, plays an important role in allergic reactions. Antihistamines are thus primarily used to treat allergies.
Despite this, due to their sedative side effects, many people use them off-label in the hopes of finding sleep relief.
The sedation caused by antihistamines is not related to its primary function. Instead, it is a byproduct of its side effect.
Many people believe that because they are drowsy and fall asleep, they are getting quality sleep.
However, inducing drowsiness is not the same as promoting restorative sleep. While it is possible to fall asleep faster, the overall quality of sleep may remain the same or even worsen.
Short-term vs. Long-term Use
In the short term, antihistamines may appear to aid sleep. They have the ability to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
However, this instant gratification may come at a cost.
Over time, the body may become accustomed to the drug. To achieve the same sedative effect, the dose must be increased. Long-term use can also disrupt the natural sleep cycle, reducing the critical REM stage of sleep.
Side Effects of Using Antihistamines for Sleep
Antihistamine use is associated with a variety of side effects. Common symptoms include dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision. These discomforts, while not severe, can be annoying.
The cognitive effects are more worisome. After taking antihistamines, some users report feeling foggy or less alert the next day. This grogginess, combined with a possible reduction in REM sleep, can make the user feel even less rested than if nothing had been taken.
Alternative Sleep Aids and Habits
For those who need a little extra help sleeping, there are over-the-counter sleep aids that are better for long term usage and prescription sleep aids available.
However, any sleep aid, natural or pharmaceutical, should be thoroughly researched. Consultation with a physician ensures that the medication is used safely and effectively.
Sleep disturbances may be alleviated temporarily with antihistamines. They do not, however, promote restorative, quality sleep.
Knowing their limitations and side effects can assist you in making better sleep aid choices. After all, pursuing sleep should result in genuine rest, not added complications.