- What to do when medication makes you sleepy
- It may be as simple as adjusting the dose, avoiding alcohol, or taking the drug at a different time of day.
- Typical offenders
- Risks of being drowsy?
- What you can do
- What Are the Best—And Safest—Sleeping Pills for Flights?
- Tylenol PM
- Praise your Thanksgiving pants
- Skip the pretzels
- Guarantee prime sleeping zones
- Hello, water, my old friend
- Live the “untangled” life
- “Don’t watch movies or read email before, unless you’re watching a documentary on koalas or something.”
- Keep your paws off the Dramamine
- Don’t get drunk
- Antiemetic Medicines: OTC Relief for Nausea and Vomiting
- Things to consider
- Dramamine Original Formula Motion Sickness Relief12.0ea
- How Can I Treat Anxiety-Related Nausea?
- Dimenhydrinate (Motion Sickness Pills)
- Prevalence of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
- Symptoms of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
- Treatment Issues
What to do when medication makes you sleepy
It may be as simple as adjusting the dose, avoiding alcohol, or taking the drug at a different time of day.
Updated: October 1, 2019Published: March, 2016
One of the most commonly reported side effects of some medications is drowsiness. “Many people report tiredness or fatigue as a side effect from their medicines. However, there are things you can do to minimize the feelings of daytime sleepiness,” says Laura Carr, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Common culprits that cause sleepiness include antidepressants; antihistamines, found in sleep aids or medicines that treat allergies; anti-emetics, which are used to control nausea and vomiting; antipsychotics and anticonvulsants, which can be used to treat seizures or depression; drugs to treat high blood pressure, including alpha blockers and beta blockers; benzodiazepines and other sedatives, which are commonly used for anxiety or insomnia; drugs for Parkinson’s disease; muscle relaxants; and opioids and other prescription pain medications. Many over-the-counter medicines may also make you drowsy, such as remedies for insomnia, allergies, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Risks of being drowsy?
Feeling sleepy throughout the day can interfere with your quality of life, possibly hurting your performance at work or keeping you from participating in daytime activities. Drowsiness can also increase your risk of falling, which can lead to injury and disability, and it can affect your ability to drive safely.
If you’re taking several medications that can cause drowsiness, the side effects may add up and get worse.
What you can do
If you’re starting a new drug that may cause drowsiness, Dr. Carr recommends that you avoid activities that require alertness, like driving, until you find out how the medication affects you.
In some cases, your sleepiness will lessen over time, as your body adjusts. If your medication is causing excessive drowsiness or affecting your ability to drive or work, call your doctor. “Resolving the drowsiness may simply be a matter of adjusting the dose or changing the medication that’s causing the drowsiness,” says Dr. Carr.
She also suggests that you keep healthy sleep habits to get a good night’s rest; limit over-the-counter drugs that have drowsiness as a side effect; limit other substances that can cause tiredness, such as alcohol; and talk to your pharmacist to see if it’s possible to take the medication at night, when you’re already preparing for sleep.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
What Are the Best—And Safest—Sleeping Pills for Flights?
Ambien—the most powerful option on this list and the only one that requires a prescription—works as a sedative-hypnotic medication that slows your brain activity to make you feel very sleepy. It’ll knock you out good—maybe even too good. Some users experience retroactive amnesia, which means you could wake up mid-flight, have a full conversation with the flight attendant, and have no memory of it when morning comes, Das says. Ambien can also lead to sleepwalking, which could result in some awkward bump-ins on the plane. But it’s not all bad. Zolpidem (the generic name for Ambien) has been shown to fight off jet lag, finds a study published in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine.
The over-the-counter medication is easy to pick up at the drugstore when you’re stocking up on travel-sized shampoos and other carry-on essentials. Diphenhydramine, the same antihistamine found in Benadryl, will likely put you to sleep, though you may pay the price once you land. “It makes us feel really groggy when we wake up, and it can make us feel really hungover,” Das says. The antihistamine may also leave you with a dry mouth that those tiny airplane cups of water just can’t quench (not a good situation since flying in general can make you dehydrated). Still, Das says it’s okay to take so long as you’ve tolerated it in the past.
The hormone occurs naturally in the body, but taking an extra dose helps induce sleep and adjust your circadian clock. That will help you function better at your destination, Das says. Start taking melatonin a few days before your trip, about four to six hours before your bedtime, so that you’re ready to hit the pillow 30 minutes to an hour earlier than normal, Das says. A review from U.K. researchers found melatonin decreases jet lag if you take it close to your target bedtime at your destination, especially if you’re traveling across five or more time zones. The researchers found doses of .5 and 5 milligrams were equally effective at preventing jet lag, though the larger (maximum) dose will help you fall asleep quicker and sleep better. Another plus? There are no major side effects to worry about. (Note: The FDA does regulate dietary supplements such as melatonin, but these regulations are less strict than those for prescription or over-the-counter medications; check with your doctor for an appropriate recommendation.)
No matter which medication you decide to go with (if any), there are a few ground rules to follow. First, give it a test run at home. “You want to know how your body tolerates it before you go,” Das says. Then, once you’re settled into your seat, pass on booze and don’t pop the medicine until the flight attendants have gone over safety instructions.
This article was originally published in December 2016. It has been updated with new information.
There’s something amazing, almost impossible-to-attain-wonderful about being able to conk out for the duration of a flight. Most people desperately want to fall asleep, but all kinds of obstacles stand in the path towards the blissful REM stage: screaming children, turbulence, intercom interruptions, an especially chatty seatmate, plain old stress, and anxiety.
There’s a whole lot of common-sense advice floating around about how to best trick your body into forgetting flying is miserable. Don’t drink caffeine if you’re a caffeine-sensitive human, cram in some ear plugs, slap on a neck pillow, imitate night with an eye mask, down some Dramamine, do the counterintuitive and splurge for an expensive ticket.
But there are some overseen factors. We’ve outlined a few below.
Praise your Thanksgiving pants
For one, wearing comfy clothes seems to help get you to nod off. If you’re constantly worried about your jeans popping off and are squirming, say goodbye to any winks. Leggings or sweats? It’s practically a pajama party! Not only will your stretchy holiday pants help to ease swelling from the pressurization of the cabin, it can help trick your mind into thinking it’s time for a nap, getting you a bit sleepier than you might have otherwise been.
Skip the pretzels
Speaking of pressurization, maybe consider skipping salty snacks for the duration of the flight. Accept the tiny and precious packets of pretzels or chips or peanuts to your heart’s content! Just save them for later. Noshing on something like a granola bar or yogurt instead might be more conducive to snoozing.
Guarantee prime sleeping zones
If the window seat helps you angle your head onto something that’s not a human, nab a Seat Alerts account to up your odds of getting a (relatively) choice cabin assignment.
Hello, water, my old friend
Most airplanes have zero percent humidity in the cabin (water separators help avoid icing in the plumbing), though some newer models like the Boeing 787 have humidified cabins. Staying hydrated should make you at least a little more comfortable, though of course you shouldn’t drink so much that you constantly have to sneak past your seatmates awkwardly for a trip to the restroom to pee. Stash an empty bottle through security and just fill it on the other side to avoid upping your carbon footprint and/or paying something horrendous for a fresh one.
Live the “untangled” life
This tip is courtesy of my uncle, who happens to be a long-time pilot for United Airlines and therefore spends a lot of time flying. Basically, don’t cross your arms and legs. Not doing so means there’s less of a chance they’ll fall asleep and wake you with that weird tingly feeling. If you’re crunching up to preserve heat, just ask for a blanket or wrap yourself instead.
“Don’t watch movies or read email before, unless you’re watching a documentary on koalas or something.”
Another tip from that trusty uncle spending his days in the air. Audio meditation files can be helpful here. Classical music can help you get in the zone. Whatever it is, maybe avoid the heavy metal or peppy pop — the goal isn’t to kick your workout up a notch, it’s to get you in a sort of zen place, and soothing sounds are what you’re aiming for.
Keep your paws off the Dramamine
This one might seem off, but hear us out. Dramamine is a popular pick to both knock you out and combat motion sickness, but there’s a good chance its effects will outlast the actual length of your flight. Unless you’re traveling for upwards of six hours or so, it’s actually way too much. What you should do instead is get something that knocks you out for just the right amount of time. If you’re of the over-the-counter persuasion, make sure you read the fine print and get something short-acting. A substitute like melatonin or a small dose of the ever-popular Ambien might work better. Some people find these options don’t leave them zonked post-flight the way Dramamine does.
Don’t get drunk
Loads of airlines will give you those mini liquor bottles for free if the flight is long enough. And we get it, it’s tempting to get tipsy to the blissful point of sleepiness. We’ve got some bad news, though: A little alcohol can help you fall asleep, but won’t necessarily help you stay asleep. Mixing any pharmaceutical sleeping aids with alcohol is a Bad Idea™. (Ditto the caffeine, though there’s some evidence the coffee nap might be a great way to snag a few winks if you’re aiming for a nap and not outright passing out on your flight.) Keep the alcohol intake low and load up on the water instead (see above).
We get it: Sleep is hard, whether you’re in the air or on the ground. But using science to your advantage and listening to a soothing oration of a nature documentary might finally earn you the blissful experience of sleeping in-flight.
Antiemetic Medicines: OTC Relief for Nausea and Vomiting
Things to consider
Healthy adults usually don’t experience side effects from antiemetic medicines. Side effects can be a concern for older adults or people who have health problems.
The most common side effects of bismuth subsalicylate are:
- Darkened stools or tongue
- Ringing sound in the ears (tinnitus)
These are short-term side effects.
Antihistamines may make you feel sleepy. This can affect your ability to drive or operate machines. It may be hard for you to think clearly. Alcohol can increase the drowsiness caused by antihistamines. Antihistamines may also cause your mouth and eyes to feel dry.
Who shouldn’t take OTC antiemetic medicines?
Some people are allergic to aspirin or other salicylate medicines. They should not take bismuth subsalicylate. Don’t give bismuth subsalicylate to children 12 years of age or younger. Don’t give it to children or teenagers who may have the flu or chickenpox. This increases their risk for Reye syndrome. This is a serious illness that can lead to death.
Before taking an antihistamine, talk to your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
- Trouble urinating (from an enlarged prostate gland)
- Breathing problems, such as asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis
- Thyroid disease
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Can OTC antiemetic medicines cause problems with any other medicines I take?
Bismuth subsalicylate may affect how well some medicines work. It also may cause side effects if combined with other medicines. Ask your doctor before taking bismuth subsalicylate if you also take:
- Blood-thinning medicines
- Medicines for gout
- Medicines for arthritis
- Medicines for diabetes
Ask your doctor before taking bismuth subsalicylate if you take pain relievers or cold medicines. These medicines may contain aspirin, which is a salicylate. You may get too much salicylate if you take more than 1 of these medicines at a time.
Talk to your doctor before taking an antihistamine if you take sleeping pills, sedatives, or muscle relaxants. Many OTC cold and allergy medicines contain antihistamines. If you use more than 1 of these medicines, you may get more antihistamine than you intend. Some prescription medicines have side effects similar to the side effects of antihistamines. These could include dry mouth and drowsiness. Talk with your doctor before taking these medicines at the same time.
Dramamine Original Formula Motion Sickness Relief12.0ea
- Powerful, fast relief from motion sickness when you need it most
- Treats symptoms on the spot
- Prevents nausea, dizziness and vomiting
- #1 Pharmacist Recommended brand for motion sickness
- 12 tablets in a safety travel pack
Dramamine Original Formula Motion Sickness Relief prevents and treats nausea, vomiting and dizziness. The tablets come in a convenient safety travel vial for anytime motion sickness symptoms strike. Always bring Dramamine with you! You don’t want to be caught in the air, on the water, or on the road without Dramamine. Depending on the cause, motion sickness is also referred to as airsickness, carsickness or seasickness. Here are some tips to help:
1. Whether on a cruise ship, a jetliner or a sailboat-the middle of the vessel tends to be the steadiest. Stay mid-boat at sea or reserve a seat over the wings when flying to avoid too many nauseating ups and downs.
2. If you know you are going on a rocky ocean-fishing adventure or helicopter tour that is likely to cause motion sickness, take Dramamine BEFORE boarding. Dramamine works best when taken as a precautionary measure. It also eases motion sickness after the fact, but why risk getting sick?
3. Take a turn at the wheel. Driving the car or small watercraft may distract you from feeling nauseous. Ask your friends if you can act as a captain. If you begin to feel motion sick and can’t drive, at least sit in the front seat. You’ll feel better if you can face the direction in which you’re headed and stare at a non-moving object.
4. Steer clear of fumes. Ferryboats, in particular, seem to chug out a lot of stinky exhaust that can make a seagoer go from slightly motion sick to all-out nauseated.
5. Toast your besties with a glass of bubbly ginger ale or stick to bottled water and focus on staying hydrated. Avoid alcohol, which can increase dehydration and nausea.
Not only is Dramamine the most trusted over-the-counter treatment for motion sickness, it is the #1 Pharmacist Recommended brand to both prevent and treat the condition.
Made in Italy
To prevent motion sickness, the first dose should be taken 1/2 to 1 hour before starting activity.
To prevent or treat motion sickness, see below:
Adults and children 12 years and over:
- Take 1 to 2 tablets every 4-6 hours
- Do not take more than 8 tablets in 24 hours
- Or as directed by a doctor
Children 6 to 12 years of age:
- Give 1/2 to 1 tablet every 6-8 hours
- Do not give more than 3 tablets in 24 hours
- Or as directed by a doctor
Children 2 to 6 years of age:
- Give 1/2 tablet every 6-8 hours
- Do not give more than 1-1/2 tablets in 24 hours
- Or as directed by a doctor
Store at room temperature 68-77 degrees F (20-25 degrees C). Do not use if carton is open or if blister unit is broken or torn. Easy to open, non-child resistant blister. This package is for households without young children.
©Prestige Brands Holdings, Inc.
How Can I Treat Anxiety-Related Nausea?
I went camping this past weekend — a feat in itself, essentially. Thanks to our awesomely large tent and my penchant for over-packing, I felt safe. I had my anxiety meds. I had enough clothing. I had food and I had water and I had plenty of blankets.
And, thankfully, I also had my “nausea bag”.
Because nausea is one of my most difficult-to-handle anxiety symptoms, I lug around a big black bag of Every Nausea Remedy Known To Man whenever I travel.
I don’t get carsick, exactly — I’ve never actually puked on the side of the road or anything. But no matter: my stomach does flips, I start to sweat, I feel the impulse to dry heave, my mouth gets all spitty, and I sit whining in the passenger seat with my head between my knees.
THE CHICKEN, THE EGG, OR BOTH?
Does the nausea cause the anxiety, or does the anxiety (of traveling) cause the nausea? Framing such a question in an either/or fashion answers nothing. I’m certain it’s a little bit of both. I’m emetophobic, so I’m afraid to puke (and afraid of feeling nausiated in general). And, I’m agoraphobic — so I’m afraid to go out and travel by car.
When nausea and anxiety combine, they form a powerful boss.
And, as we were leaving the campsite on Sunday, my anxiety began to kick in. We collapsed the tent and, immediately, my symbolic safe space had been rolled up into a bag.
This is where I started to feel ill. I ran away from the campsite, thinking a short walk or a trip to the bathhouse might help. It did not.
I rushed back to the campsite, shaking, sweating, and feeling queasy. These powerful ingredients cooked up a powerful panic attack that landed me in the passenger’s seat of my husband’s car, unable to continue packing up, unable to do much of anything except think about the powerful nausea in my gut and what it might produce.
And this is where my nausea bag came in handy.
MY ANXIOUS-NAUSEA REMEDIES
If your own belly crumbles under the weight of anxiety like mine, consider putting together a nausea bag for emergencies. I know that it’s not the best thing in the world to rely on “safe items” for anxiety — but, frankly, when you’re at the breaking point, it can be helpful to have some good stuff on hand.
Here’s what’s in my bag:
1. Dramamine. Obviously, you’ll want to talk to your doctor or your pharmacist before taking any new meds — especially if you’re already on prescription drugs for anything. But I swear by Dramamine — the original kind. Dramamine II is a different drug entirely (meclizine); the original Dramamine is called diphenhydrinate and it works wonders for me. Granted, it’s no quick fix — it takes about an hour to kick in.
2. Emetrol. Emetrol isn’t good if you’re diabetic, and that’s because it’s full of sugar. According to the Emetrol website, the liquid works by calming muscle contractions in your gut. I take a swig when I feel vomity.
3. Pepto-Bismol. This one’s a staple. I keep the chewable tablets everywhere — in my nausea bag, in my purse, in my car, and occasionally I find them in the wash because I tend to shove them in my pockets now and again. I like the chewables because I can either chew them and get them out of the way, or I can stick it behind my tongue and let it work its magic slowly.
4. Peppermint oil. I have a bottle of Aura Cacia’s peppermint oil in there. It’s awesome stuff. Just wafting it under my nose will generally help (and I’m sure it’s part psychological, too, given that I have such positive associations with that scent) — but if I’m really in distress, I mix the oil with a little bit of lotion and I put it on my stomach. Kudos to my fellow emetophobe Sarah Reck of Reader Writer Dreamer for teaching me this trick via Facebook chat when I was down and out on my bathroom floor last month with the stomach bug.
5. Saltines. No explanation needed. They’re comforting and will absorb any excess stomach acid I have from not eating due to the nausea.
6. Anti-nausea wristbands. The jury’s still out on whether or not these are just hocus-pocus, but I strap them on my wrists nonetheless. They put pressure on a point in your wrist that’s said to relieve nausea. They sort of hurt after awhile, but other than that, they’re innocuous enough.
7. Lemon oil. I carry this oil too. While I usually prefer the peppermint oil, the lemon oil is also quite excellent for under-the-nose wafting. A pregnant friend swore by this method — although she carried around an actual physical lemon, which I’d rather not do at this stage in the game. (All bets are off when I do get pregnant, however.)
LET’S END THIS STORY WITH A FRIENDLY DOG
I wish I could end every nausea or panic story with a dog.
So, there I am, sitting in the passenger’s seat while my husband and friends pack up. I slapped on my wristbands, swallowed some Xanax, tossed back a shot of Emetrol, rubbed peppermint oil on my belly, and waited.
Then, my friend Justin’s dog, who’d been camping with us (and managed to eat an entire stick of butter the day prior, amusingly), hopped up onto my lap.
“Car ride?” she would have asked, I’m sure, if she could speak.
Nope, no car ride. Just a nauseous Summer. And Lexi (that’s the dog) seemed to understand my plight — she sat on my lap and started licking the crap out of my face. She sniffed my peppermint oil and tried to lick my belly through my teeshirt.
Then, she laid on my lap, wagged her tail, and I scratched her belly until the nausea — and thus, the panic — subsided.
Photo credit: Sharyn Morrow (Flickr)
Do you panic about anxiety, too? Keep up to date with all things anxiety-related on the Panic About Anxiety Facebook Page.
How Can I Treat Anxiety-Related Nausea?
Dimenhydrinate (Motion Sickness Pills)
Over-the-counter (OTC) medication abuse can be a problematic issue because it typically occurs in younger individuals under the age of 26, and OTC medications are readily available. A 2008 research article published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine concluded that:
- People who abuse OTC medications are typically younger individuals.
- They are most often female and Caucasian.
- OTC medication abuse typically occurs in conjunction with the use or abuse of alcohol, creating a dangerous situation.
- OTC medication abuse most often occurs in individuals who are unable to obtain illicit drugs or get prescription drugs illicitly.
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Prevalence of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
Dimenhydrinate is a medication marketed in the United States under the brand name Dramamine. This medication is an over-the-counter antihistamine that is often used for the relief of nausea associated with numerous causes, but most often for motion sickness. As a result, dimenhydrinate is sometimes referred to as a “motion sickness pill.”
Abuse of dimenhydrinate has been reported in research literature and most often involves oral ingestion of extremely high doses to produce euphoria, hallucinations, and sedation (anti-anxiety effects). Most of the clinical literature consists of case studies of adolescents who have abused the drug. Most of these studies occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s.
There appears to be a potential for the development of physical dependence on the drug in individuals who chronically abuse it, although there are only a few cases reported in the literature of physical dependence on the drug. The anti-anxiety effects of taking large doses of dimenhydrinate make it an attractive drug of abuse for people who are diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety disorders, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and even schizophrenia.
A recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health highlighted an extensive literature search that looked at cases of OTC medication abuse reported from January 1, 2005 through November 5, 2015. There were no research reports of dimenhydrinate abuse found in the literature search. A study was also conducted in 74 pharmacies in France that involved questionnaires completed by 530 patients. No cases of dimenhydrinate abuse were reported in the questionnaires. Although there is certainly case study evidence to support the notion that abuse of dimenhydrinate does occur, its abuse is most likely rare.
Symptoms of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
The book Drug Facts and Comparisons reports that the symptoms associated with abuse of dimenhydrinate can be quite variable from person to person. Case studies suggest that individuals use extremely high doses of the drug to get the desired psychoactive effects.
The side effects that can occur as a result of dimenhydrinate abuse include:
- Problems with coordination
- Extreme sedation
- Dry mouth
- Irregular heartbeat
- Changes in blood pressure
- Other cardiac issues
- A comatose state
- Potential death from an overdose, most often due to seizures or heart attack
Using motion sickness pills in conjunction with alcohol can lead to significantly slurred speech, muscle weakness, lack of ordination, nausea and vomiting, and cognitive problems. Combining dimenhydrinate with alcohol can lead to a seriously confused state known as delirium that consists of confusion, disorientation, hyperactivity or hypoactivity, and psychosis.
Long-term abuse of dimenhydrinate is associated with:
- Cardiovascular issues, including irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and susceptibility to heart attack or stroke
- Problems with kidney functioning that potentially lead to kidney failure
- Liver damage, particularly if dimenhydrinate is taken in medications that also include acetaminophen
- Stomach ulcers and bleeding
Using or abusing any type of motion sickness pill when operating machinery or while driving can be extremely dangerous.
Symptoms of an overdose on dimenhydrinate include:
- Enlarged pupils
- Dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty urinating
- Stomach pain and cramps
- Reduced blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry skin, rash, or hives
- Significant confusion, drowsiness, depression, and/or anxiety
- Agitation, psychosis, and/or seizures
- A comatose state
Overdose on dimenhydrinate can be fatal. Treatment for overdose includes having the stomach pumped, the use of activated charcoal, IV fluids, breathing support if needed, and other medications to address the symptoms associated with the overdose.
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Because there is some evidence that use of dimenhydrinate may produce physical dependence, a person suspected of using the drug would be initially treated by a physician who specializes in addiction medicine. The physician could use medications to address any withdrawal symptoms. This approach would most likely involve the physician managing the symptoms via medications. The antipsychotic medication Clozaril (clozapine) has been reported to reduce cravings in those with serious dimenhydrinate abuse issues.
Individuals with any type of substance use disorder should become involved in a long-term program of recovery that includes the following:
- A thorough assessment of the individual’s functioning at all levels
- The development of a treatment plan to address the needs of the individual based on the findings of the assessment
- A plan to address any co-occurring mental health disorders and other co-occurring substance use disorders along with treatment for the individual’s abuse of dimenhydrinate
- Medications when appropriate
- Therapy, delivered in substance use disorder therapy groups, individual sessions, or a combination of groups and individual sessions
- Participation in peer support groups, such as 12-step groups
- Family involvement