Fewer things are more frustrating than an out-of-whack sleep cycle. When you’re tired by day and wired by night, it can get to the point where you’ll try just about anything to get a solid night’s sleep ― including taking Benadryl, a drowsiness-inducing antihistamine, whether you’re experiencing allergies or not.
It turns out that popping a Benadryl to score some shuteye, even when you’re allergy-free, is pretty common: According to a 2017 review published in the journal The Gerontologist, roughly 1 in 5 adults use an over-the-counter sleep aid, and Benadryl is one of the most commonly used products.
“One reason people turn to Benadryl is the feeling of drowsiness that ensues,” said Tania Elliott, a New York-based allergist and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. (Other sleep aids, such as melatonin, have little to no drowsiness effect.) “The onset of action is about 20 minutes, so people feel like it’s really ‘working,’” Elliott added.
But does taking a Benadryl really contribute to a better night’s sleep ― and is it even safe? We asked experts to give us the breakdown.
The Medication Does Make You Sleepy...
Antihistamine (also known as diphenhydramine) is the secret ingredient in numerous OTC products commonly used for insomnia, including Benadryl, said Alex Dimitriu, a California-based dual board-certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist. It works by blocking histamine, a chemical produced by the central nervous system that not only produces allergy symptoms, but plays a role in wakefulness (hence the insta-drowsy feeling after you pop a Benadryl).
Antihistamines may be helpful in short-term situations (say, for a few days at a time when stress, travel or other disruptions cause you to toss and turn), but it’s important to stress that this isn’t the medication’s intended use, said Martin Reed, a...