While using NyQuil as directed is thought to be safe, taking it in ways that are not recommended, like as a primary sleep aid, can be dangerous.

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.

Article at a Glance:

  • NyQuil is an over-the-counter medication used to treat colds and the flu.
  • NyQuil contains Doxylamine Succinate and HBr, which target sickness but also affect the brain.
  • Taking NyQuil as a sleep aid is not advised.
  • Possible side effects of NyQuil include disrupted sleep, anxiety, and breathing trouble.
  • It is possible to become dependent and addicted to NyQuil if you rely on it for sleep.

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 ketamineDXM (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.

Related Topic: Trazodone for 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.

Melissa Carmona
Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

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 […]assic hallucinogens.” Psychopharmocology, September 2012. Accessed June 22, 2020.

Jio, Sarah. “Ask Dr. G: “I Use NyQuil to Help Me Fa[…], Is This Dangerous?” Glamour, April 15, 2009. Accessed June 22, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.