The Disadvantages of Sleep Aides

Disadvantages of Sleep Aids

When one suffers from a chronic lack of sleep, there is no doubt it can cause a feeling of desperation. Most people are willing to do almost anything for a good night’s sleep, and sometimes this includes taking a sleep aid. There is a multitude of sleep aids available, either by prescription or over the counter. And while sleep aids may have their place in certain situations, too often, people think they can use them to self-medicate. After all, it’s only making you sleepy, right? In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many different types of drugs available to induce sleep; most have no idea how they can affect the body. 

A Word About Insomnia

Insomnia is the medical term for not being able to fall or stay asleep. There is also a condition known as early morning awakening, where one may wake up a few hours early and find themselves unable to go back to sleep. Insomnia is either acute (lasting three weeks or less) or chronic (suffering three nights per week for at least three months). There are two types of insomnia, Primary and Secondary. Primary insomnia is when sleeplessness is not due to a health condition (think jet lag, situational stress, excessive light, etc.) Secondary insomnia is directly related to a health condition such as depression, asthma, sleep apnea, or the like. Regardless of what type of insomnia you have, they all result in the same thing: daytime sleepiness, irritability, trouble concentrating, and a higher risk of overall health problems.

Acute insomnia rarely needs treatment as it usually rectifies on its own. You get over your jet lag, adjust to your previously stressful situation, or change your environment to fix whatever it was that was keeping you from sleeping. It’s when people have chronic insomnia that things begin to change.

Over the Counter (OTC) Sleep Aids

It can take people a long time to visit their doctor for trouble sleeping. They tend to think it is something they should get over, or it’s a minor nuisance that doesn’t warrant real action. After a few nights of this, it’s not surprising to find them perusing the aisles of their local drugstore. What they see there may be overwhelming.


Most over the counter sleep remedies are antihistamines. Sound familiar? That’s because antihistamines are the drug commonly used to suppress allergic reactions. Histamines are chemicals made by the body to signal your systems to perform some type of action. It’s responsible for telling nerves when to itch, the stomach to produce acid, and the immune system to create the inflammatory response needed to fight parasites. It also plays a role in keeping us awake. The most popular drug used in OTC sleep aids is diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl. Diphenhydramine blocks the production of histamine, which in turn can make us drowsy. Diphenhydramine is found in many OTC sleep remedies. They add it to cold medicine and pain medicine to help people sleep if you suffer from pain or have a cold. It is also found in dedicated sleep aids. It may seem hard to believe, but most medicines you see in the sleep aisle of your local drugstore are simply Benadryl packaged in different ways.

In 2017, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommended against using over-the-counter antihistamine products to treat insomnia. They don’t produce a good quality sleep and therefore leave you feeling groggy and hung-over the next day. While they may be safe to take once in a while, your body becomes tolerant to them very quickly. Eventually, they will stop working. There is also the possibility of drug interactions. For example, some people may not realize that Tylenol PM contains acetaminophen along with a dose of diphenhydramine. That’s a dangerous situation if one doesn’t read the labels to check on active ingredients. There are also side effects from taking too much diphenhydramine, such as dry mouth, urinary retention, and even an altered mental state. 


Melatonin is a hormone produced by a gland called the pineal gland. When darkness falls, it stimulates melatonin production, telling the body it’s time to start feeling sleepy. The melatonin you buy over the counter is created synthetically in a laboratory setting. Because it works mostly on the transition from wakefulness to sleep, it is usually only helpful to those who have trouble falling asleep. Using melatonin on a short-term basis is considered safe for most healthy adults. However, a small percentage of people still suffer from headaches, daytime drowsiness, and dizziness after taking it. 

Prescription Sleep Aids

According to the CDC, almost 9 million adults in the United States have likely taken a prescription sleep aid over the last 30 days. It also showed that the use of prescription sleep aids tripled between 1998 and 2006 in those aged 18 – 24. Prescription sleep aids are potent substances. They work on your central nervous system and different parts of your brain to take effect. There are many kinds of prescription sleep aids on the market, and they belong to one of several categories:


Sometimes known on the street as ‘benzos,’ drugs such as Ativan, Restoril, Valium, and Halcion live in this category. They work on a brain chemical called GABA, which promotes sleep by reducing nerve activity in the body. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and must be used with extreme care under the strict guidance of a physician. Not only does your body easily become dependent on these drugs, but it is also challenging to stop taking them. If not tapered down correctly, one can experience vomiting, seizures, muscle cramps, and tremors. 

Nonbenzodiazepines Hypnotics

Ambien and Lunesta are the two most popular sleep aides in this category. While these drugs also target GABA, they have a very short half-life. This short half-life means the body can expel the drug very quickly. Because nonbenzodiazepines do not stay in the body as long as regular benzos, there are fewer side effects. However, less does not mean zero. Any drug that acts on your central nervous system is going to produce potentially unwanted side effects. Headaches, grogginess, dry mouth, and dizziness are some of the less serious of these. More severe reactions have been reported, including incidences of people suffering from sleepwalking incidents, hallucinations, and anxiety. There have also been accounts of people doing chores, cooking, and even driving while sleeping. While these episodes of parasomnias are rare, they are extremely dangerous. Nonbenzodiazepines are also addictive and can cause rebound insomnia problems once a person discontinues use. 


Often given to patients who exhibit signs of depression along with sleeplessness, sedating antidepressants can help when taken in low doses. Trazodone is the most common antidepressant prescribed for trouble sleeping. One potential benefit of Trazodone is that it can relieve insomnia and depression at the same time. However, if one’s depression is severe, it requires much higher doses of the drug, increasing unwanted side effects. People have reported lightheadedness, headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, and even memory problems while taking sedating antidepressants. 

Sleep Aids vs. Sleep Hygiene

After reading about all the possible side effects of taking over the counter and prescription sleep aids, it’s easy to see why people hesitate to take them. Of course, you and your doctor may decide to try them if you have severe, chronic insomnia and have eliminated all other possible avenues of treatment. But a lot of the time, you can reduce sleeping troubles by following good sleep hygiene. Sometimes all it takes are a few simple changes of habit to reset your inner sleep clock. Are you going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends? Doing this helps your body learn when it should be getting sleepy. Make sure your room is optimized for sleeping. It should be quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Are you getting enough physical activity during the day? Regular exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night. And last but not least, avoid large meals too close to bedtime. Not only will digestion keep your body awake, being in a prone position can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. 

How Does Daily De-Caffeinate Fit In?

If there is one thing we know by now, caffeine affects your sleep patterns. We also know that caffeine has a long half-life [link to other blog] and stays in a person’s system for a fair amount of time. Its sole purpose is to keep you awake, alert, and focused because it's a stimulant. Obviously, that’s the exact opposite of what you want before you try and fall asleep. If you drink even two cups of coffee every day, caffeine may be at least one thing that’s keeping you awake. Taking a traditional sleep aid is not an effective way to compensate for the over-consumption of caffeine. Doing so can lead to an unhealthy cycle of using caffeine to power through only to take another drug that blocks what the caffeine is doing. 

If you suspect that caffeine is responsible for your sleep troubles, Daily De-Caffeinate is an excellent choice. It contains 100mg of Rutaecarpine, an extract derived from the fruit of the Evodia tree. Evodia is grown in China and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Rutaecarpine induces the production of an enzyme the body uses to breakdown and metabolize caffeine. Taking Daily De-Caffeinate two hours before bedtime will help your body rid itself of any excess caffeine. Once Daily De-Caffeinate takes effect, your natural circadian rhythm can take over and lead you to a great night’s sleep. 


Sleep aids available over the counter and by prescription also come with a host of adverse side effects. Most OTC sleep aids are indeed considered safe to use from time to time. Still, prescription sleeping pills are very powerful and require close supervision by a doctor. They can make you feel groggy the next day and cause sleepwalking, making people more susceptible to accidents and falls. There is a good chance that if you’re having trouble sleeping, lifestyle changes can have a positive impact. Practicing good sleep hygiene can go a long way toward overcoming your sleep issues. And if you drink caffeinated beverages at any time during the day, try taking Daily De-Caffeinate two hours before bed. It will help your body eliminate any excess caffeine in your system that may sabotage good sleep habits. Sleep well!

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