Continuous Use of Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids and Dementia

Continuous Use of Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids and Dementia

Trouble sleeping? Need something to help you get some rest? You reach for your friendly over-the-counter sleep aid and call it a night. Night after night. For weeks, months, or years. There’s nothing to worry about (except maybe a little liver damage)… right?

Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids = Alzheimer’s?

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) the active ingredient in some OTC sleep aids – diphenhydramine (DPH), a first generation antihistamine – has been linked to significantly increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Diphenhydramine (DYE fen HYE dra meen) is part of a class of drugs called anticholinergics. These drugs inhibit the function of acetylcholine (ACh) which is a neurotransmitter (brain messenger). ACh tells muscles to contract. It’s how the brain tells your body to move around. Inside the brain, ACh controls the function of other brain chemicals associated with memory, learning, sleep, and a variety of other important functions. As such anticholinergic medications are commonly used as antidepressants, muscle relaxers, allergy medications (Benadryl), and sleep aids (Tylenol PM, ZzzQuil, Unisom) in both prescription and over-the-counter forms.

Previously, it was believed that the body could recover from using anticholinergics. That’s part of the reason they are so widely available and commonly prescribed. 

prescriptions, medications, doctors, sleep aids, sleep medication, sleeping pills

However, the study published last year “found that higher cumulative use of anticholinergics is associated with an increased risk for all-cause dementia and AD.” What the results showed was that it didn’t matter if you had been taking things like DPH chronically just prior to the onset of dementia. Any previous chronic use during the 10 year duration of the study led to increased risk. The total amount of exposure was significant too. Participants were found to be 54% more likely to develop dementia if they had been taking an anticholinergic for three years or more versus taking it for three months or less. Although the study was conducted on men and women ages 65 and older, it still raises concerns at any age. We know that the body gets worse at producing ACh as we age, and we know that low ACh has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps we need to think about protecting our acetylcholine system as early as possible!

Safe Ways to Get Enough Sleep

What about our original problem though? What if we need help sleeping? Fortunately there is a much safer solution. Melatonin is another naturally occurring hormone and neurotransmitter found in the brain. It is secreted by the pineal gland during hours of darkness. The increase of melatonin signals the brain that it’s time to fall asleep and initiate the sleep cycle. We use melatonin as the primary ingredient in Sleep Fast because of its proven effect on reducing sleep latency and normalizing sleep patterns. Melatonin is non-toxic, non-addictive, and ideal dosage depends on the individual, not the amount you take, so there is no risk of abuse.

These days it’s common for people to have trouble sleeping. We are far removed from our ancestors who rose with the sun and slept at nightfall, yet our ancient biochemical wiring remains. Today we have bright lights at night and high definition screens that feed our brains signals to stay awake longer and longer into the evening. Reducing these sources of light while adding a bit of melatonin to the mix gives us a head start on sleep. It helps the body begin its natural process of winding down without risking damage to your future cognition and memory.

For more information on how your sleep-wake cycle works, and how melatonin supplementation can help, check out our video: