Sep 9, 2021

Interviewer: Why older adults shouldn't use over-the-counter sleep aids. Geriatrician, Dr. Natalie Sanders, why is that?

Dr. Sanders: The main problem with these is that the active ingredient in the vast majority of over-the-counter sleep aids is diphenhydramine. This is an antihistamine which can increase the risk for confusion, falls, delirium, and can also have hangover effects. The other problem is that it can cause difficulties urinating that, if left untreated, can ultimately lead to kidney failure.

Interviewer: So does that mean all sleep aids should be avoided if you're an older adult?

Dr. Sanders: So this does not include melatonin, but any other sleep aid, painkiller, or cold medication that has a PM after it should really be avoided. The fact is, is that sleep aids have only been studied to be used for short-term sleeping problems, and so if you're having chronic problems with sleeping, it's really best to avoid the over-the-counter sleep aids and talk with your health care provider.

updated: September 9, 2021
originally published: March 14, 2018

For Patients