My father has been struggling with insomnia for quite some time now. At his age, he needs all the sleep he can possibly get. Unfortunately, that has certainly not been the case, which has led to him asking me for some advice. I talked to some friends who instantly recommended that my father try melatonin and diphenhydramine, which are two of the most popular sleep aids people use when they find it hard to sleep or stay asleep.
Although both are commonly used to help alleviate the effects of insomnia, I still had some questions that needed answers. Are they both just as effective? How are they different? I did some digging of my own and found out that diphenhydramine, or Benadryl, is more effective for a bad case of insomnia since it is a sedative.
However, since it is unnatural, the user might experience numerous side effects and it isn’t advisable for long-term use. On the other hand, melatonin is safer to use but it isn’t quite as effective compared to diphenhydramine. It will make you sleepy, but you need other sleeping guidelines too to help you sleep.
My father is just one of the many people from all over the world who suffer from sleeping problems. If you are encountering trouble getting some shut-eye, don’t be alarmed; you are certainly not alone. And calm yourself down; there are ways to help you get some sleep. In this article, we’ll discuss two of the most popular ones: melatonin vs. Benadryl (diphenhydramine).
Table of Contents
Click on these topics to get the info you need fast:
- What is Melatonin?
- What Is Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)?
- Melatonin vs. Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) – What’s the Difference?
- Things to Consider When Choosing Between Melatonin vs Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
- The Bottom Line
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your body’s pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland found just above the middle of the brain. During the day, the pineal is inactive. However, when the sun goes down and darkness reigns, the pineal is “turned on” and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood.
Most times, this process gets started around 9 pm. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise steeply, which results in you starting to feel less alert. Sleep suddenly becomes inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours — which means all through the night — before the light of a new day when they fall back to low daytime levels at about 9 am. Daytime levels of melatonin are barely noticeable.
Besides altering the timing of the clock, bright light also has another effect. It directly prevents the release of melatonin. That is why melatonin is at times referred to as the “Dracula of hormones” since it only comes out in the dark. Even if the pineal gland is switched “on” by the clock, it will not generate melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit area. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to hinder the release of melatonin.
What is an Appropriate Dosage?
Chances are you have been exposed to melatonin, whether in health food stores or in an advertisement or article. No other hormone is available in the United States without a prescription. Because melatonin is contained naturally in some foods, the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 permits it to be sold as a dietary supplement. These do not need to be given approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or controlled in the same way as drugs.
Because it is not categorized as a drug, synthetic melatonin is produced in factories that are not governed by the FDA. Listed doses may not be regulated or accurate, which means the amount of melatonin in a pill you ingest may not be the amount listed on the package. Most commercial products in the market are offered at dosages that trigger melatonin levels in the blood to rise to higher levels that are naturally generated by the body. Taking a usual dose (which is 1 to 3 mg) may increase your blood melatonin levels to 1 to 20 times normal.
For melatonin to be of help to you, the correct dosage, method and time of day it is taken must be fitting to the sleep problem. Taking it at the “wrong” time of day may mess up your biological clock in a way that might cause even more problems. How much to take, when to take it, and melatonin’s effectiveness, if any, for specific sleep disorders is only beginning to be understood.
While there are real apprehensions about the use of melatonin sold as a product that is accessible to everyone, there have not been any reported cases of proven toxicity or overdose. If you are really concerned about the correct melatonin dosage for you, it is best to consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional.
What Does Research Data Say About Melatonin?
For some, melatonin is a feasible way to help improve sleep. However, when scientists did tests to compare melatonin as a “sleeping pill” compared to a placebo (sugar pill), a lot of studies show no benefit of melatonin. Evidence that melatonin can reset the body clock is well established, although it remains unclear whether exposure to light may be more effective. In all, research has shown that improved sleep when melatonin is ingested at the right time for jet lag and shift works. Proper dosage and any safety risks will become clear when more research is undertaken.
Some studies show promise when it comes to the use of melatonin in shortening the time it takes to fall asleep and lessening the frequency of awakenings, but not certainly overall sleep time. Other studies show no benefit at all when melatonin is used.
Large studies are needed to prove if melatonin is indeed effective and safe for some kinds of insomnia, specifically when it comes to long-term use. It may be true that melatonin is effective and harmless for some types of insomnia and for children but not for other kinds of sleep problems. How much to take, when to take it and its effectiveness, if any, for specific disorders is only the start of what needs to be understood.
What Is Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)?
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that is utilized to treat allergy symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, skin rash, runny nose, hives, and itching. But it is also used for insomnia because of one of its primary side effects which is sleepiness. Some people it for movement disorders, nausea and motion sickness as well.
This medicine can be taken by mouth or directly injected into a vein or a muscle. After taking a dose, you can expect to feel the effects of this antihistamine for 2-7 hours.
Are Diphenhydramine and Benadryl the same thing?
Benadryl is a brand name for the antihistamine diphenhydramine. But at the same time, it goes by other brand names as well such as Aler-Dryl, Allermax, Diphen, Siladryl, Sominex, and Unisom.
Melatonin vs Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) – What’s the Difference?
Now, we’ve made it to the meat and potatoes of this article where we finally answer the question: which of these two works better for introducing sleep?
The answer is they both work.
A lot of people all over the globe use melatonin or diphenhydramine to fall asleep at night and more importantly, stay asleep. That can be for a variety of reasons; some may not be able to fall asleep inherently while others might use them to stay asleep all through the night. And some might just relish how they wake up feeling energized after a good night of sleep. So it’s not a matter of what works and what doesn’t – but more of a matter of preferences.
What is the Chemistry of Melatonin vs Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)?
Let’s now discuss the chemistry of these 2 chemicals. Why is this crucial? This is important because melatonin (C13H16N2O2) is actually a hormone that is naturally generated in the body. But diphenhydramine (C17H21NO) on the other hand, is an antihistamine. It was discovered in 1943 and is a substance that is unnatural to the body.
Now, with melatonin, the risks have been established quite some time ago, which are very few to none. If you take it consistently for a short period of time like, say 3-12 months, there are virtually no side effects. However, use it more than that and you may cause your body to down-regulate its own natural production of the hormone.
Diphenhydramine, on the other hand, is a drug that is being used to combat a wide variety of disorders such as insomnia, anxiety, allergies, movement disorders, and nausea. Unfortunately, it has its fair share of downsides in the form of adverse reactions. It’s also entirely possible to overdose on the drug, which is a magnitude easier to do with diphenhydramine vs. melatonin. It’s projected that on average, users will fall asleep roughly within 30 minutes of ingesting Benadryl.
So really, we are actually comparing a natural sleeping aid with a chemical one. And just like with most natural vs. chemical arguments, there are a couple of things you need to take into account. Let’s now move on and assess the effectiveness of each of these sleeping aids.
Which is Best Suited for Sleep?
After establishing that both melatonin and diphenhydramine work for getting better sleep, we need to determine which one works better. Diphenhydramine actually works better to induce sleep, while melatonin helps in its own subtle ways. Benadryl actually sedates you and turns off your brain, whereas melatonin will slowly drift your body and brain into feeling more sleepy in a more natural way.
Let’s simplify this: with Benadryl, you will get sleepy regardless of what you do. And it will be extremely difficult for you to not fall asleep. The drug basically does all the work for you.
With melatonin, you will find yourself getting more and more relaxed, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep and get a good night rest. However, if you are very anxious or stimulating yourself in another way like for example, playing video games or watching TV, you still might still not fall asleep.
Which is Much Better to Take in the Long Term?
Let’s now move on and talk about the long-term effects. We’re quite sure that you’re probably not looking for a sleeping aid to take just once. If you’re suffering from insomnia, this is something you’ll want to take every night to fall asleep well and hopefully give you a better quality of life.
Since melatonin is the natural hormone that prompts sleep, it’s safer to take it on a long-term base vs. diphenhydramine. On the other hand, if you’re suffering from a bad case of insomnia, Benadryl might be more suited for you.
However, there is a higher chance of dependency in the case of Benadryl vs. melatonin. And if you’re the kind of person who’s easily susceptible to that, then it might be smarter to take melatonin.
Melatonin is the better option if you’re planning to take sleeping aid for a longer period of time. Research has shown that it is safe to take for periods that range from 3-12 months. However, Benadryl has a stronger effect. And you might find that melatonin is too subtle for you. If that’s the case, Benadryl would be better, since it works.
What are the Possible Side Effects of Benadryl?
As mentioned at the onset, Benadryl can have some potential side effects. Compared to melatonin, you can basically take as much as possible without the fear of experiencing adverse effects. Here’s the list of possible diphenhydramine side effects:
- Hallucinations (auditory, visual, etc.)
- Heart palpitations
- Extreme drowsiness
- Severe dizziness
- Abnormal speech (inaudibility, forced speech, etc.)
- Flushed skin
- Severe mouth and throat dryness
- Inability to urinate
- Acute megacolon
- Motor disturbances
- Abdominal pain
As you can see, it’s not a good idea to play around with diphenhydramine. If you’re going to take it, you best be sure to follow the instructions on the package.
Things to Consider When Choosing Between Melatonin & Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
If you are still wondering whether it’s better for you to take melatonin or diphenhydramine, here are some things that you should consider before you make a decision.
1) What is your sleeping problem?
The first thing you need to know is what exactly is your sleeping problem. As mentioned above, melatonin and diphenhydramine work in different ways and work differently for various sleeping problems.
Do you experience extreme stress at night, which makes it extremely difficult for you to fall asleep? Then it might be better to go for diphenhydramine because it has a stronger punch.
Are you experiencing small troubles falling asleep at night, and do you feel that you need an extra push so that your body falls asleep better? Then you should try melatonin.
Are you suffering from insomnia, and can you still not fall asleep after having worked on your sleep hygiene? If you’ve done everything you can in your means – but you still can’t fall asleep, you can try diphenhydramine.
2) What’s your risk tolerance?
Another matter that is of crucial importance when you’re making a decision between melatonin vs. diphenhydramine is your risk tolerance. The reason for this is because diphenhydramine is a harsher drug, which means it has a profound impact on your body, whereas melatonin is a regular supplement that is already available in your body.
So if you’re not sure what to take, it’s a better decision to go with melatonin. After all, you do not want to be placing any unnecessary stress onto your body even if you want to fall asleep better. Diphenhydramine will make you pass out, but it does not necessarily promote restful sleep.
3) Can you take both melatonin AND Benadryl?
Another question that is asked often and always is whether you can take both melatonin and Benadryl at the same time. Let’s get this VERY CLEAR: it is strongly recommended that you NOT take both melatonin and Benadryl.
The reason for this is because they both work through different mechanisms; melatonin restores your natural sleep cycle while Benadryl changes it.
Another reason that they don’t combine is since they both can make you feel drowsier and the cumulative effect can be a bit too much. It’s extremely possible that you’ll experience a hangover, where you’ll still be drowsy and groggy in the morning.
Guidelines for Using Melatonin and Diphenhydramine
If you’re suffering from sleep problems, the first thing that you should do is assess your sleep hygiene. Are you eating a healthy balanced diet? Or are you eating unhealthy fatty dinners and then topping it off with an Espresso? There are a lot of things that you could be doing that is possibly causing an adverse effect on your sleep and it is important that you fix this, before you start taking any drugs.
After you’ve got the sleeping hygiene part checked out and you’re still experiencing problems falling asleep, then this is a good moment to start looking for possible supplements that can help you get better sleep.
The best thing to do now is to try out a high-quality melatonin supplement like this one. This is because it is less invasive than Diphenhydramine. After all, melatonin is a natural hormone that is already produced in your body.
Try out a melatonin supplement for at least three weeks and see if it makes a difference in your sleep. Take it about an hour before you want to go to bed, and do not exceed the recommended dosage.
If you found that melatonin does not work for you, and you have the right sleep hygiene in your lifestyle. Only in this case, it might be that you need to look for something stronger such as Diphenhydramine like this. And if you’re taking it, be sure to follow the instructions as written in the drug manual.
The Bottom Line
In the end, it is strongly recommended that you take a good look at your sleeping problems and hone in on natural solutions, such as lifestyle tips to get better sleep. However, this might not work for everyone and in that case, you can take melatonin or diphenhydramine.