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Studies Suggest Taking a Sleeping Pill Every Night May Be Harmful to Your Health

As a pain management practice in Pasadena, many of our patients suffer from sleep problems — especially those patients who suffer from TMJ disorders,  craniofacial pain, headaches and migraines.

Aside from our patients, however, tens of millions of Americans struggle to sleep as well. And many of them turn to sleeping pills for help.

Older Adults at Potential Risk

Prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids are especially popular among older adults. A recent study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that roughly one in three adults ages 65 to 80 use these drugs at least occasionally to fall asleep, and OTC meds like Benadryl and Tylenol PM are the pills of choice for sleepless seniors.

Experts say this is concerning for a number of reasons. Studies have linked the regular, long-term use of OTC sleep medicines to some potentially serious side effects.

Cognitive Side Effects

“Many OTC sleep pills—such as Benadryl and Tylenol PM—contain diphenhydramine,” says Dr. Donovan Maust, co-author of the recent study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan Medicine. Diphenhydramine can block activity of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which plays a role in muscle activation and also in brain functions like alertness, learning and memory,” Maust says.

Experts also say that as a result of this blocking effect, these OTC drugs can also cause constipation and confusion.

There is also growing worry about another more-serious risk associated with these OTC drugs. “Another concern for which evidence is growing is that long-term use appears to increase the risk of dementia—and the more use, the greater the risk,” Maust says.

One 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that over a 10-year period, people who regularly took the amount of diphenhydramine found in two Benadryl or two Extra Strength Tylenol PM pills roughly once every week or two were at significantly increased risk for dementia. For individuals who took these drugs about once every three days (or more), their dementia risks rose by 54% compared to people who did not take these types of medications.

Side Effects Linked to Prescription Sleeping Pills

Prescription sleep aids — like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata and other popular meds—  carry their own risks. Their side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations

In a nutshell, sleep aids are meant to be used sparingly. If you’re very stressed and need help nodding off the night before an important work or social event, these pills can be a big help. But if you’re taking them all the time—and especially if you’re older than 65—the risks these pills pose likely outweigh their benefits.

About Pasadena Pain Management

Pasadena Pain Management offers pain management treatment for TMJ/TMD, migraine, headaches and neck pain in Pasadena, CA. Our office is conveniently located with extended hours to meet your needs. At Pasadena Pain Management, we offer the exclusive TruDenta® treatment therapy — a highly specialized form of care that involves cutting-edge dental technology, without needles or injections. Patient satisfaction is our top priority and we strive to provide the exceptional, affordable pain management care and personal touch that lead to lasting relationships. A smiling patient is our greatest reward and we look forward to keeping our patients happy and pain free.