Just Give 'em Some Nyquil While You're At It

I know Tara is going to kick me for this post, because as one of the resident D.I.N.K.s here at ScienceBlogs my parenting advice doesn't extend into the realm of "ethical" so much as "practical". Specifically, I've advised her on numerous occasions to just give the toddlers a "pharmacological sleep aid" of sorts. Ok, ok, so my suggested "sleep aid" usually takes the form of whiskey or Nyquil, but I'm not adverse to Benadryl either. After all, diphenhydramine is actually recommended by pediatricians to help kids sleep. Surely it is just as efficacious as my other suggestions, if a little on the "lightweight" side!

Turns out I was wrong.

In fact, the national study, conducted by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, found that the drug appeared to perform worse than a placebo agent. Only 1 out of 22 children showed improvement in sleeping after using diphenhydramine compared to 3 in 22 children who used a placebo. The drug, an antihistamine, is available over-the-counter in generic forms or as the name-brand drug, Benadryl®.

Wow, I hope she hasn't actually been taking my advice. Guess that's why I'm not a doctor. And why I don't have kids.

The investigators had hypothesized that, based on the sedative properties of diphenhydramine in adults, treated children would be more likely to fall asleep without any other help from their parents, and that doing so would lead them to associate the crib with sleep and comfort, helping them to fall back asleep if they woke up.

But Merenstein says the results were surprising. Diphenhydramine use was no more effective than a placebo in reducing nighttime awakening, "or improving overall parental happiness with sleep for infants," he says.


"The bottom line here is that parents and pediatricians should rely on evidence-based medicine and not on leaps of logic that border on folklore," Merenstein says.

So it appears we have yet another case where the "common wisdom" doesn't apply to dem der youngins. Thank goodness whiskey still works. Although now that I think about it, a two year old with a hangover probably isn't the best idea.....

(and no, I don't actually advocate Nyquil or 80 proof ethanol)

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It's been my indirect experience (I have no kids myself, but have many friends who do) that young children frequently have different reactions chemicals (both pharmaceutical and in foods) than do adults. Any ideas why this happens (or am I entering the world urban legends here)?

-- Lenn

Wish I could give you a good answer, but I haven't a clue. My kids are still pretty young, so the only medications they've really received are Tylenol and the occasional antibiotic, and they've reacted to those as expected. (I never took Dr. Monkey's advice wrt the Benadryl). :)

Weird, now Tara's getting questions and comments on my blog. That's just not right!

Without getting into specifics, Lenn, probably differ in part because their nervous systems aren't fully developed yet; there are hormones and growth factors being excreted in different patterns than in the adult brain, causing new connections to be formed and glia to proliferate. Glia can influence behaviors as well from their hefty regulatory roles. Receptor expression patterns change. Lots of fun stuff.

Using benadryl to improve overall sleep in children is not helpful but the occasional use for a child who has an ear infection or is having to fly can be a lifesaver. Just cross your fingers that they don't get that paradoxical hyperactivity.

Benadryl makes me dizzy, wholly preventing any kind of sleep. Unfortunately, when the package says to take a certain amount, that's what i do. There is no such dosage on vodka, which is probably why it works so much better for me. Perhaps very small doses of Benadryl would help me get to sleep after all.

Thanks for clarifying that. I have been trying to find ways to help my little girl sleep better. She has been having a hard time lately, but I can't figure out why. Would you know anything to help stop snoring naturally?


By Rebecca Hurst (not verified) on 08 Nov 2011 #permalink