Sleep-deprived parents, desperate for a good night's sleep, may be advised by their friends and physicians to offer their babies a dose of the antihistamine diphenhydramine, also known as Benadryl. But despite the popular idea that diphenhydramine reduces infant nighttime awakenings, using the drug to help babies sleep doesn't do a thing, say Johns Hopkins researchers.
Researchers randomly assigned 44 6- to 15-month-old infants who woke two or more times during the night to receive a dose of diphenhydramine or a lookalike placebo 30 minutes before bedtime for a week. For the week prior to administering the medication or placebo, parents recorded their child's sleep habits and awakenings. They also recorded information about their child's sleep during the week the children received the dose of diphenhydramine or placebo and afterward, for a total of 28 days. Throughout the study, neither the parents nor the study researchers knew whether the child took medicine or the placebo.
Diphenhydramine failed to reduce nighttime awakenings, contrary to popular thought. During the week the parents gave the medicine and placebo, the drug was no more effective than the placebo in reducing the number of nighttime awakenings or improving parents' happiness with their infants' sleep. Only one of the 22 children receiving diphenhydramine had improved sleep, compared with three of the children receiving the placebo. The researchers even stopped the study early because it was so clear that Benadryl was ineffective at improving sleep.
What This Means to You. Benadryl doesn't help infants sleep better, the results of this study show. The authors also point out that although the parents in this study did not report it, the drug could cause low levels of hyperactivity that could affect infants' sleep. If your infant has trouble sleeping, avoid using diphenhydramine as a sleep aid. Instead, try avoiding bright lights and loud noises close to bedtime and encourage a soothing bedtime routine that includes a warm bath, soft music, or other activities that promote relaxation. If you're concerned about your child's sleep — or lack of it — talk to your doctor.
Source: Dan Merenstein, MD; Marie Diener-West, PhD; Ann C. Halbower, MD; Alex Krist, MD; Haya R. Rubin, MD, PhD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, July 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2006