Diphenhydramine Addiction?
April 30, 2007 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I use Benedryl (diphenhydramine HCl) as a sleep aid. I take between 25 and 50 mg each night. Is this bad?

I have found that Benedryl works great for my sleep issues (I fall asleep just fine but wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep for HOURS). When I take the Benedryl, I sleep soundly the night through.

I also suffer from sinus headaches and congestion, so the Benedryl helps with that as well.

I take Benedryl each and every night. Am I killing myself? I don't really want to talk to my doctor about it as I have in the past and the solution was to get more exercise (if I was physically exhausted, he assumed, this would not be a problem). I am a physically fit (relatively) female, at a good weight, I eat healthy. It's not the exercise that's the issue. I could run 50 miles and I'd still wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts that keep me awake. I guess my thoughts are more powerful than physical exhaustion.

Am I doing any damage to my body by using Benedryl every night?
posted by Sassyfras to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a doctor but presumably like any medication there must be some chance of dependency, which can't be good. I would think that if you find yourself have to increase dosage to get the same effect, that would be a pretty big sign that its not a sustainable method.

Did you try the exercise idea your doctor gave you or are you just presuming its not the issue? I'm not trying to be snarky, I just couldn't tell from the question. It was a long time ago, but for a while I had mild insomnia, and found in the end that increasing my exercise and developing a fixed routine for the last hour before I went to bed really helped.

Good luck.
posted by modernnomad at 4:48 PM on April 30, 2007

The same ingredient is in OTC sleep aids such as Sominex. From their FAQ:

Is Sominex® habit forming?
No. Not as long as you take it as directed and it is helping you to fall asleep. However, if you feel you need to take it for an extended period of time, you might have another sleep condition that needs the attention of a doctor.

IANAD, and I don't know if Benadryl has other ingredients also. If it does, perhaps you should take a sleep aid with just the ingredient to help you sleep.
posted by ALongDecember at 4:51 PM on April 30, 2007

Response by poster: Not snarky at all! Yes, I did the exercise thing and I still do. I have not increased the dosage of Benedryl and I don't think I'll have to. I've been taking it for months and haven't had the need to increase. 1-2 tablets always do the trick.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:51 PM on April 30, 2007

i did that for years. i found it, er, had a negative effect on my bowel habits. ymmv.

you might try valerian root. i find it as effective as benadryl, without the side effects. i also have a prescription sleep aid that i save for really difficult nights (i use ambien, your dr. may prefer something else).

i am also a young, fit female, and it's been hard to get doctors to take my insomnia seriously. i finally got a referral to a neurologist who specializes in sleep.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:51 PM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I remember a caller on Zorba Paster on Your Health said he took a Tylenol PM (Acetaminophen + diphenhydramine HCl) nightly to fall asleep, and was wondering if it was OK to do this on a continuous basis. He became alarmed when he ran out, couldn't fall asleep at all, and had to go to a store that stocked Tylenol PM in the middle of the night. Zorba said that this was fine and didn't see any harm in it. But he's just a radio doc, so who knows.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 4:52 PM on April 30, 2007

I used to do the same thing myself, my doctor told me taking Melatonin is somewhat healthier for sleep problems. It obviously won't help for the sinus and congestion problems, but it's worth a shot.
posted by griphus at 4:53 PM on April 30, 2007

Early morning wakefulness with obsessive ruminations and thoughts is one of the cardinal signs of major depression. Benadryl has a mild antidepressant effect but there are other medicines that are much more effective. So make sure you're treating what you think you're treating.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:54 PM on April 30, 2007 [7 favorites]

Except acetaminophen isn't really a great thing to take on a daily basis, so the Benadryl is probably safer.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:54 PM on April 30, 2007

Melatonin's worked wonders for me. In fact, lately I've been breaking the 3mg tablets in half because taking the whole 3mg makes me a bit groggy in the morning. YMMV. I also use Valerian occasionally, but the effect is milder.
posted by neckro23 at 5:00 PM on April 30, 2007

Benadryl has a mild antidepressant effect? That's the first I've ever heard of that -- thanks, ikkyu2
posted by treepour at 5:00 PM on April 30, 2007

If you want to explore the chemical similarities of antihistamines and antidepressant medications you might start here.
posted by caddis at 5:16 PM on April 30, 2007

Apparently, Benadryl is marketed as a sleep aid in other countries. It isn't as good as natural sleep, but it has been explained to me that the use of such a sleep aid is to train your body to fall back asleep when it should, not force it to sleep.

Aside: Huh, that is both news to me and good to know ikkyu2.
posted by Loto at 5:21 PM on April 30, 2007

Best answer: I asked my doctor this exact same question because I've been using Benadryl like a crutch over the winter. He said it's no problem and a better solution than most other sleep aids. The reason I like it is that when I wake up in the middle of the night like I always do, Benadryl keeps me just muzzy headed enough that I can drift back off to sleep without the OH SHIT I AM AWAKE troubles. Now that the weather's improving this isn't so much of a big deal, but there was something about Winter that made my sleep awful. I also like melatonin for the same thing. Both of these were to wean myself off drinking before bed which worked, but not long term and not for the staying asleep part. Sometimes I'll swap them both for a warm bath just so I don't get totally used to one of them.
posted by jessamyn at 6:00 PM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I use diphenhydramine like this. Assuming you're a young healthy person and not on any other drugs it's fine. No dependence, no tolerance.

I agree that there's something else going with your (and my) chronic insomnia. Antidepressants helped but the five that I tried all caused an amount of weight gain that I wouldn't accept. Xanax, lorazepam, and Ambien all helped a lot, but you know that whole pesky tolerance and addiction problem.

Leaving work at 5 pm and having plenty of time to relax before bed, light exercise, avoiding alcohol and caffeine completely, white noise and total darkness in the bedroom -- when all of these factors come together I sleep like a baby. But in the real world, they never do and so I take Benadryl when I need to.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:02 PM on April 30, 2007

I have numerous allergies and take benadryl frequently, particularly at night. I have looked and found no studies that suggested any negative effects from taking benadryl for long periods. It is not physically addictive. It's been a common OTC drug in the US for over twenty years, so any serious long term effects would likely have been noticed by now. You're almost certainly not killing yourself from taking it nightly.

But that doesn't mean that there isn't a better, healthier solution to your sleep problems.
posted by justkevin at 6:08 PM on April 30, 2007

Slarty Bartfast, FWIW, there is an "extended release" version of ambien which is supposed to be nonaddictive. (But why bother when the Benadryl works?)
posted by treepour at 6:09 PM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At doses of 50mg per day there is virtually no risk of dependence. There is a slight chance of tolerance developing because you are taking it everyday, but even that is rare.

Benadryl does have some side effects, but they don’t bother most people that aren’t elderly. Older antihistamines block acetylcholine receptors, which is responsible for causing drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, constipation, or trouble urinating. But like I said, healthy people under the age of 65 rarely see these effects.

So my advice to you is that if none of these effects are present or bothering you, you might as well keep using it until you figure out why you can’t sleep.

As mentioned before, melatonin works for some people, but definitely not everyone. And as far as medication goes, you won’t find anything that’s really much safer to use than benadryl.

Also, the comment about benadryl having an antidepressant effect is not necessarily true. There’s not a definitive link.

Oh, and I’m a pharmacist.
posted by jjbb at 6:09 PM on April 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

I think that the benadryl part of your question has been answered, but I'll share my chronic insomnia story in case it rings any bells for you. I had chronic insomnia for nearly 5 years. I tried all sorts of things- eliminating caffeine, exercising to exhaustion, valerian root, acupuncture and the associated stinky Chinese herbs. Regardless of what I did, I hard a hard time falling asleep, and once I woke up that was it for the night- even if it was 3 am. I knew by heart which TV channels were broadcasting real TV shows between 2 and 6am and which ones just showed infomercials.

And then, I solved the problem. For that entire period of time I was in a relationship that was making me profoundly unhappy, and I had been in deep denial about that. The day I made the decision to leave, from that night on I slept like a baby.

I'm just sayin'. Benadryl will treat the symptom but not necessarily the underlying cause.
posted by ambrosia at 6:39 PM on April 30, 2007

I recognize that the health effect has been answered (as ambrosia says), but if it *cough* helps you sleep at night, take this as anecdotal help:

About a year and a half ago I adopted a >1 year old Border Collie/Lab mix that wound up being heartworm positive and had an additional respiratory ailment (that was never diagnosed, b/c, you know, heartworms!). I had to put this poor dog, who is a nutcase, on bedrest for about three and a half months. I was giving her three or four a day while she was recovering, along with some slow patient walks. At the time, she weighed less than 35 lbs. She's now a healthy 48 and as of three weeks ago had her second annual and came up totally clean.

At the time, I talked about this regimine with three different vets (the one that gave us a free exam for adopting from shelter, the shelter when I took her back for the heartworm treatment, and a friend of mine that happens to be a vet) and none of them winced at the Benadryl. And she was up to 4 a day (of the over the counter off-brand Walgreens stuff).

I suffer pretty bad from insomnia myself, and during college, most notably during finals, would abuse the shit out of Sominex, and it has yet to do anything. If a malnourished sick dog can do it safely, I reckon you can too.

That said, if she has sudden onset system failure, and it's not due to something food-based, I'll be the first to let you know.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:13 PM on April 30, 2007

It'd be great as a sleep aid f it didn't zonk me out so completely the next day. I always figured there was no risk of addiction from something so unpleasant. I mean...it aced the histamine, but with a tremendous after effect. On me.
posted by rhizome at 7:44 PM on April 30, 2007

Just a word on the valerian root that thinkingwoman mentioned. I take it fairly regularly, but find that after about 2 weeks or so I start getting really weird dreams. Not disturbing, not anything I remember afterwards, just ... weird.


On the plus side, for that two weeks I sleep well and wake up easily and very refreshed - a lot better than with any other OTC or prescription medication I've taken. It's just that I can only hack it when taken 2 weeks on, 1 week off.
posted by Pinback at 8:05 PM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As for an underlying cause - I really have no idea. I've been this way since I was about 8 years old. Benedryl has become my recent savior.

Jessamyn - it's exactly how you stated it: The reason I like it is that when I wake up in the middle of the night like I always do, Benadryl keeps me just muzzy headed enough that I can drift back off to sleep without the OH SHIT I AM AWAKE troubles.

Thanks for the great answers everyone. It looks like I'm not killing myself with Benedryl!
posted by Sassyfras at 8:06 PM on April 30, 2007

My dad is a doctor (surgeon-retired) and this is what he gave his patients, and me, for sleep problems. I mention this because he is recovering from a major accident, and we have been giving it to him lately to help him sleep.
I used to use it too, but found that I had too much of a rebound effect from it. If I stopped taking it, the next night I could not fall asleep at all. I sleep better nowadays and find that a whiskey and coke (non caffeine) helps on the few nights I have trouble.
posted by vronsky at 9:04 PM on April 30, 2007

Evidently, Benedryl in the UK has a different active ingredient than the US version.
posted by yohko at 9:36 PM on April 30, 2007

I like booze, in fact I'm on it now, but -- at least from what I've heard -- no, it won't hurt you.
posted by Grod at 10:04 PM on April 30, 2007

2nding ikkyu, make sure you've got the right diagnosis to make sure you're on the right treatment.

I've had several sleep lectures by sleep docs who say we should not use benadryl to help our patients sleep, because it does not provide good, restful sleep. They recommend Ambien (which just went generic this week).
posted by gramcracker at 12:21 AM on May 1, 2007

For what it's worth, dyphenhydramine (in Benadryl) can sometimes make sinus problems worse. When I take it for allergies, if I'm not careful it dries out my sinuses too much and I get an infection from bacteria brewing in the nasty dried mucousy bits that are left behind, clinging tenaciously to my sinus cavity.
posted by smashingstars at 3:12 AM on May 1, 2007

Diphenhydramine can also make you *really* irritable. If the issue is depression (including what, Jessamyn, sounds like seasonal depression...!) then you might be making problems worse.

I use melatonin, personally. It doesn't have the same 'kaboom-zzzzzzz' effect, it just makes you drowsy, but it's a healthier alternative.
posted by SpecialK at 4:19 AM on May 1, 2007

I have to run a humidifier if I'm going to take Benadryl at night because it dries me out so bad, but as long as I do that I don't suffer any serious side effects.

Even 3 micrograms of melatonin gives me the screaming axe-murderer nightmares, which is not an unusual side effect, so if you were going to try it you'll want to do it when you don't need to be anywhere the next day. I use it for jet lag, because the nightmares are actually preferable to my jet lag symptoms, but I won't take it for insomnia.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:34 AM on May 1, 2007

Just as a data point, I had a problem with early waking back when I was struggling the most with depression. In the decade since, on 60mg of prozac a week, I can count the number of incidences on one hand. If you have any other depression symptoms it's definitely worth looking into.
posted by phearlez at 10:06 AM on May 1, 2007

Response by poster: Just as a data point, I had a problem with early waking back when I was struggling the most with depression. In the decade since, on 60mg of prozac a week, I can count the number of incidences on one hand. If you have any other depression symptoms it's definitely worth looking into.
posted by phearlez

But, I don't wanna be depressed. :(
posted by Sassyfras at 10:29 AM on May 1, 2007

I've been told melatonin gets metabolized out of the blood stream pretty quickly, meaning it's good for getting to sleep but not for staying asleep. There may be time-release capsules available if that's your concern. I usually take one or two 3mg tablets before bed and I've found it leaves me feeling a lot better in the morning than diphenhydramine. Or booze, for that matter.
posted by sonofslim at 12:33 PM on May 1, 2007

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