Seniors need to use caution with over the counter sleep aids

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Off the shelf sleep aids may be handy but not necessarily good for your health. Seniors run a high risk for adverse side affects.

When the aches and pains of this 50+ year old body keep me up at night, I grab the bottle off the shelf and down a couple of tablets with P-M on the label. It may make me sleepy.

But it may not be real good for me..or you.

Go into any retail store and just see how many off the shelf sleep aids there are for sale.

Most of them have PM in their labeling. Promising a restful night's sleep.

Dr. Tom Frank teaches Pharmacology to UAMS Medical Interns at St. Bernard's here in Jonesboro. Frank says the part that makes you sleepy does something else as well.

"What you're doing is you're taking an antihistamine that a lot of folks would take this time of year for ragweed allergy and things of that nature."

The sleep-inducing drug is called diphenhydramine or DPHD. Sedation is a side effect of this drug. And there can be many more including; Dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, trouble passing urine and others.

For seniors combining a sleep aid with prescriptions currently being taken can create real problems. About half of all Americans over the age of 65 take more than 5 medications. Many common medications may increase the adverse events of DPHD.

Frank, "The most likely outcome would be confused thinking that certainly would be distressing for not only the patient but family members as well ."

Now Dr. Frank says yes, these off-the-shelf items will help you sleep but you may not get the proper sleep. You won't get into the REM period that gives you the most rest. And he says you may be self-diagnosing a problem that is totally unrelated.

Frank, "Everything from chronic depression to side affects from another medication."

Granted you could suffer from insomnia but Dr. Frank says they are seeing a lot of Sleep Apnea sufferers. They don't sleep at night but may during the day so the cycle of not being able to sleep or poor quality sleep keeps repeating itself.

So there are a wide range of things that could be manifested as sleeping problems in a single patient.

Dr. Frank says just because you are getting a little older doesn't automatically mean you have sleeping problems. Visit your doctor before you grab that bottle off the shelf. Educate yourself about your medication. Read the labels. And visit your doctor for sleep problems.

Frank, "You need to get a sense of the cause of the problem rather than just jump right to the treatment."

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