Why You Shouldn’t Take Dramamine for Sleep

About a third of Americans deal with insomnia each year, and are looking for just about anything that they can take to get more sleep.[1]  Extended disruptions to our sleep cycles can be stressful and frustrating, so it’s easy to feel drawn towards seemingly simple solutions. 

If you’ve ever suffered from motion sickness, you might be aware of Dramamine, the antihistamine often used for mitigating nausea, and a whole host of other unpleasant symptoms of motion sickness. One of the side effects of Dramamine is drowsiness.

Dramamine and other antihistamines are commonly used as over-the-counter sleep aids because they are readily available. A welcome effect of Dramamine for those with chronic sleep troubles is that some report becoming drowsy within the first 20 minutes of its use.

While feeling sleepy may be a welcome side effect for someone with difficulties falling asleep at night, there’s no evidence that Dramamine is effective as a long-term sleep-aid. Many people report feeling more awake after taking antihistamines, and antihistamine use can cause hyperactivity in children.  

Medications such as Dramamine do not actually work to promote healthy, good quality sleep. Finally, antihistamines can also interact dangerously with certain medications and exacerbate certain sleep disorders.

At first, Dramamine may seem like it works. But over a relatively short period of time, your body will develop a tolerance to the medication. Also, Dramamine and other over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Benadryl, though they cause drowsiness, do not contribute to better-quality sleep when used as a sleep aid.

Let’s dig into the science of Dramamine, Benadryl, and other over-the-counter antihistamines. We’ll explore how they work, and why these medications are not the best choice for a good night’s sleep.

What is Dramamine?

Dimenhydrinate, which is commercially known as Dramamine, is an antihistamine medication used to treat motion sickness.  It’s intended use is to help prevent and treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness experienced by those with motion sickness.[2] It is not intended for use as a sleep aid.

How does Dramamine work?

Dramamine is an antihistamine that works to reduce the effects of the natural compound histamine in the body.[2]  Histamine is a small molecule abundant in the body; its most well-known function is its role as a mediator of allergic reactions.[3]  

Dramamine is actually a combination of two active ingredients – diphenhydramine (which is also sold by itself as the OTC allergy drug Benedryl) and 8-chlorotheophylline.  Dramamine’s anti-nausea effects are thought to be a result of diphenhydramine’s blockage of histamine receptors in the vestibular system, and the addition of the stimulant 8-chlorotheophylline was meant to counteract the sedative effects of diphenhydramine.[4]

Can I use Dramamine as a sleep aid?

Dramamine has been used as a sleep aid because diphenhydramine, a main component of Dramamine, causes drowsiness approximately 20 minutes after taking a dose of the anti-allergy medication. But as mentioned above, Dramamine also contains another compound that promotes alertness, so it is not a great choice for a sleep aid.  

When thinking about choosing a sleep aid, it’s best to start out with the questions: “What will give me the best quality of sleep.” While the antihistamines Dramamine and Benadryl can help you fall asleep, they do not improve sleep quality.  

Sometimes, they can even cause restlessness and hyperactivity rather than drowsiness, especially in children.[5]  So, antihistamines may not cause a feeling of drowsiness in everyone, and can even make you feel more awake — not what you want in a sleep aid.

Beyond the fact that Dramamine is meant to treat motion sickness, not insomnia, Dramamine use can also have adverse side effects.  Serious adverse effects of Dramamine include chest pain, decreased alertness, difficulty urinating, convulsions, seizures, agitation, mood changes,. and/or fast or irregular heartbeat.[2]

While scientific studies have shown that Dramamine causes sleepiness, researchers have found that: “the potential for drug interaction is high”.[6, 7, 8]  While empirical research affirms that the over-the-counter anti-allergy and motion sickness medication makes you tired, the extent to which Dramamine actually improves sleep and/or sleep quality remains unclear.

Few studies have investigated and compared the efficacy of Dramamine for sleep with prescription sleep medicines, looking instead at trends across people who take over-the-counter sleep meds.  

The bottom line is that Dramamine, while effective for motion sickness, is not meant to be a sleep aid.  Researchers from the University of Colorado specifically notes that, “sedating antihistamines do not adequately address the problem [of improving sleep quality and length].” They also said, “the belief that nighttime sleep was aided by the addition of a sedating […] antihistamine was not supported by [a scientific study].”[9]

Dramamine may interact with a variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil), metformin, prednisone, and certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications.  

Dramamine also may make you more awake, which could worsen insomnia. Finally, the use of Dramamine for sleep can exacerbate existing sleep issues such as sleepwalking.[10]

The evidence suggests that Dramamine for sleep should not be a first line treatment for people suffering from sleep issues. People who are experiencing sleep problems should talk to a sleep specialist in order to relieve their sleep issues to get more restful, better-quality sleep.

To learn more about natural sleep aids, check out this article or take the sleep quiz to see which Remrise formula is right for you.

Glossary

8-Chlorotheophylline: Comprising nearly half of the over-the-counter drug Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), 8-chlorotheophylline is a stimulant drug with effects similar to that of caffeine.

Antihistamines: A class of medications which are meant to treat allergies.  Dramamine and Benadryl are two common antihistamines. While antihistamines can produce feelings of drowsiness, they are not meant to be used as a sleep aid and can cause hyperactivity and other side effects, especially in children.

Benadryl: The trade name for the antihistamine diphenhydramine, Benadryl is an anti-allergy drug available over-the-counter.

Dimenhydrinate:  An over-the-counter antihistamine, marketed under the commercial name Dramamine, which is used to treat motion sickness.  Dimenhydrinate is a combination of two drugs – diphenhydramine and 8-chlorotheophylline.

Diphenhydramine: An antihistamine drug which is marketed as Benadryl, and combined with 8-Chlorotheophylline to be sold as Dramamine.  Diphenhydramine can cause feelings of drowsiness, but should not be relied upon as a sleep aid as there is no evidence that this substance can promote better-quality sleep.

Dramamine: An over-the-counter antihistamine medication that is used to prevent and treat motion sickness.  While people may take Dramamine as a sleep aid, it is not an effective long-term treatment, as people can quickly develop a tolerance to its effects.

Histamine: A small molecule abundant in the body; its most well-known function is its role as a mediator of allergic reactions.

References 

  1. “One in four Americans develop insomnia each year: 75 percent of those with insomnia recover.” Science Daily.  Available at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180605154114.htm.
  2. “Dramamine.”  WebMD. Available at https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-10007/dramamine-oral/details.
  3. “Histamine.”  Colorado State University VIVO Pathophysiology.  Available at http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/endocrine/otherendo/histamine.html.
  4. “Dimenhydrinate.”  Drugbank.ca. Available at https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00985
  5. “Trouble sleeping?  Experts say skip antihistamines.”  Baylor College of Medicine. Available at https://www.bcm.edu/news/sleep-disorders/experts-warn-against-antihistmaines-sleep-aid
  6. Weerts, AP, et al.  “Evaluation of the effects of anti-motion sickness drugs on subjective sleepiness and cognitive performance of healthy males.”  J Psychopharmacol.  Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24346808.
  7. Sproule, BA, et al.  “The use of non-prescription sleep products in the elderly.”  Int J Geriatr Psychiatry.  Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10521884
  8. Pagel, JF.  “Medications and Their Effects on Sleep.”  Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice.  Available at https://www.primarycare.theclinics.com/article/S0095-4543(05)00010-2/abstract.
  9. Sleep and Psychosomatic Medicine.  Available at https://www.crcpress.com/Sleep-and-Psychosomatic-Medicine/Pandi-Perumal-Narasimhan-Kramer/p/book/9781498737289.
  10. “Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) Drug Interactions.”  Drugs.com. Available at https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/dimenhydrinate,dramamine.html.