Here Are The Worrying Risks Of Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids

Reaching for the pills when you're having trouble sleeping might not be worth it.

If you frequently struggle to fall asleep, you’ve likely reached for an over-the-counter sleep aid at one point or another. When all else fails, a Tylenol PM can help knock you out, but you might want to be wary of how often you rely on sleeping pills. These medications can be useful for one or two nights of sleeplessness, but they’re not meant to be taken frequently, and doing so can come with some negative health effects.

Required labels on these pill bottles include a warning on the back that indicates that users should stop using sleep aids and see a doctor if sleeplessness persists for more than two weeks. However, a recent survey from Consumer Reports found that 18 percent of sleep aid users took them on a daily basis, and 41 percent used them for a year or longer.

These drugs can be useful short-term, but if used regularly, they can lead to addiction, cause drowsiness and problems with memory and attention, according to WebMD. New research has also identified a worrying link between diphenhydramine, a common ingredient in allergy and sleep medication, and dementia. And, as with most medication, sleeping pills can be fatal if a user overdoses.

In addition to those larger dangers, sleeping pills can also have a number of less serious, but still harmful side effects. They can interfere with normal breathing, which can be dangerous in people who have chronic lung problems such as asthma. They can cause changes in appetite, constipation or diarrhea, gas or heartburn, unusual dreams, uncontrollable shaking, burning and tingling in the hands, and more. You might even experience some sleepwalking.

It’s always best to follow the label and use the medication as directed, but if you are having consistent trouble sleeping, you should see a doctor, who can help determine any underlying issues contributing to your sleep problems. You may also consider trying alternative therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or another form of treatment that has fewer side effects.