NyQuil is a common cold and flu relief medication that is sold over-the-counter in either liquid or pill form. It is usually used to relieve coughing, but it also produces a feeling of relaxation and drowsiness. Additionally, some people who have conditions with associated pain use NyQuil to help maintain a pain-free state of sleep.
Because NyQuil is thought to produce a deep and enduring state of sleep, people often ask, “Can you take NyQuil just to sleep?” or, “Can I use NyQuil as a sleep aid?” A few aspects of NyQuil need to be considered to answer these questions.
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Can You Take NyQuil as a Sleep Aid?
Though NyQuil contains components that may lead to better sleep as a side effect, relying on the medication for sleep is not advised. Like any drug that can assist with either falling asleep or maintaining sleep throughout the night, using NyQuil regularly may lead to several problems.
What is in NyQuil That Makes You Sleep?
A main component of NyQuil is Doxylamine Succinate, an antihistamine that causes drowsiness by blocking histamine from attaching to receptors in the brain. Because doxylamine succinate doesn’t discriminate between which histamine receptors they block, they cross the blood-brain barrier and inhibit receptors involved with the regulation of sleep (just one of the important functions of histamines). The disruption of this particular function of histamines in the brain results in drowsiness.
NyQuil also includes the ingredient dextromethorphan HBr, which is included in the medication to suppress coughing. However, as it metabolizes in the body, it becomes dextromethorphan (DXM). Listed as a dissociative drug by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, DXM is an NMDA receptor antagonist that acts primarily as an antitussive (cough suppressant) but has dissociative hallucinogenic properties like those found when using ketamine, DXM (dextromethorphan) and PCP (phencyclidine). These properties are much less severe in NyQuil and are unlikely to be experienced unless NyQuil is being abused.
Are There Side Effects to Using NyQuil for Sleep?
Using NyQuil as a sleep aid is known to make people drowsy and fall asleep. The duration of sleep can vary depending on the person. For some, taking NyQuil is good for sleeping between four to six hours, while for others, sleep lasts between seven to eight hours. For most people, sleep is calm and continuous; however, some people have reported experiencing disrupted sleep, often involving lucid and weird dreams, increased anxiety, breathing stoppage, and trouble falling back to sleep. This can lead people to consume more of the drug in a shorter time period to get back to sleep.
Can You Get Addicted to NyQuil?
According to Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “When used as directed, NyQuil does not present substantial risks, even with repeated use. It is better to stop using it for sleep-inducing purposes.” So, while using NyQuil as directed is thought to be safe, taking it in ways that are not recommended can be dangerous.
With extended use, some people may notice that the typical amount that they consume does not produce the same effect. Instead, it may take longer to fall asleep, or they may not be sleeping as long. Taking larger doses or more frequent doses to achieve the same effect usually indicates that the body has developed a tolerance to the drug, and is likely to have formed a dependence and addiction.
As with any drug, this situation should be treated as a serious condition. Withdrawal symptoms can occur, and the individual should seek assistance from medical or mental health providers.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Common Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.” June 2, 2020. Accessed June 22, 2020.
Reissig, Chad; et al. “High doses of dextromethorphan, an NMDA antagonist, produce effects similar to classic hallucinogens.” Psychopharmocology, September 2012. Accessed June 22, 2020.
Jio, Sarah. “Ask Dr. G: “I Use NyQuil to Help Me Fall Asleep, Is This Dangerous?” Glamour, April 15, 2009. Accessed June 22, 2020.
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