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How are antihistamines used as sleep aids?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Older types of antihistamine drugs make many people feel sleepy. This is an unwanted side effect for people trying to treat allergy symptoms. But 2 antihistamines are widely used as sleep aids. They can be used by themselves or combined with pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, in "night-time" or "PM" formulas. The drugs are diphenhydramine (for example, Nytol, Sominex, Unisom) and doxylamine (for example, Unisom). They are available without a prescription. 

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor.

The old antihistamines, like Benadryl, have a very drowsy side effect that makes them useful as sleep aids. It is this side effect that people use to help get to sleep using an antihistamine. Some of the new ones do not have such a significant drowsy side effect.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.