Diphenhydramine, or DPH, the active ingredient in Benadryl and several sleep aids, including Simply Sleep and Unisom, is sold as a separate formulation for use on Fido, who may have sleep or anxiety problems. No prescription is needed, and it usually comes in 25 mg and 50 mg doses. Some human insomnia suffers swear by DPH in dog-pill format, taking up to 200 mg to get to sleep and stay there.
But is it safe, or even advisable, for humans to use DPH as a sleep aid?
On the one hand, manufacturers of sleep aids have no problems in adding
diphenhydramine into their formulations. On the other hand, there are also side effects and risks associated with the use of DPH, even though it’s sold as an over-the-counter pet medication, readily available for human use.
First, how does DPH work? It does its magic at the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing the build-up of histamines between the synapses, which causes a sedative effect. That’s why DPH is called, paradoxically, an antihistamine. DPH is also an effective allergy medication.
That being said, what are the downsides to DPH? It should not be used if you suffer from glaucoma, as it increases intraocular pressure. It should also not be used on young children or the elderly. In addition, DPH has the potential to interact with other medications in an adverse way. Caution is also in order if your suffer from hypertension, heart disease, asthma or peptic ulcers.
While DPH has certainly been shown to help people sleep, as with all sleep aids, you should first seek your doctor’s opinion before using it. You don’t want to get “hooked” on any sleep aid or medication but instead should start with good sleep hygiene techniques (which we’ve discussed here on many occasions). And if you genuinely suffer from a sleep disorder, then a variety of proven treatments are available to get at the root cause of your sleep issues.
A solution always starts with a frank discussion with your doctor and then, if necessary, continues with seeking out a sleep professional.