I recently tried Nytol One-A-Night, which is a popular over the counter sleeping pill containing the antihistamine diphenhydramine as the active ingredient.
I also tried the Nytol Herbal version not long ago, so I’ll be comparing the effectiveness of both in this review.
I took the herbal version for three nights, and then had a week without using any sleep aids. Following that, I took one 50 mg tablet of the One-A-Night for four nights.
I know from experience that antihistamine sleeping pills work quite well for me, so there was more of a chance of a placebo effect. I’ll try to give as unbiased an account as possible though.
The Nytol knockout
Compared to the herbal version, I thought I might experience a more noticeable sedative effect. That’s kind of what happened, just not exactly how I imagined.
The instructions say to take it 20 minutes before bed. I did that on the first night and stayed awake reading for around 40 minutes – I was curious to see if I could detect any feeling of drowsiness that was different from how I’d normally feel in bed.
There was still no noticeable effect after 40 minutes, so I switched the light off anyway. I believe I then fell asleep within ten minutes, and woke up nine hours later!
I didn’t wake up once during the night, which is unusual for me, and overslept the alarm by one hour. So it appeared that the Nytol had done its job.
Feeling the effects in the morning
In the morning, I felt quite refreshed – both mentally and physically. However, I also had a bit of a fuzzy head and felt some light pressure on my forehead, just above my eyes.
It’s strange when sleep aids work this way; you feel like you slept well, but also have some nagging side effects that remind you that you just took a sleep aid.
The fuzzy sensations slowly faded on their own, taking a couple of hours to completely disappear. So although the Nytol seemed to give me a good night’s sleep, it didn’t leave me feeling 100% the next morning.
I was still able to go about my day and work, but those symptoms were annoying.
The following nights
On the second night, I repeated the same routine. There was the same effect of not feeling drowsy, but I still fell asleep relatively quickly. I again woke up in the morning without any memory of nocturnal wakings. And once again, I had a fuzzy head.
On the third night, I don’t think the sedative effect was quite as strong. The manufacturer advises that you can develop a tolerance to Nytol, but night three seemed quite soon to me.
I woke up a couple of times in the night this time, but admittedly still slept pretty well. The next morning symptoms were similar though.
I tried it one more time, and again didn’t have a repeat of the first or second night’s total knockout, but still slept quite well.
By this point, I’d had enough of the groggy feeling, was content with a couple of good nights’ sleep, and didn’t take them again that week.
Would I take Nytol One-A-Night again?
The Nytol appeared to work quite well for me, and I appreciated sleeping right through the night. The persistent fuzzy head the next day was an issue though.
On balance, I might consider taking Nytol again, but only as a one-off if I felt I really needed it. I much prefer to focus on natural techniques to sleep better without relying on a sleep aid that gives me lingering side effects as a trade-off for the easy way to get some sleep.
How it compares with the herbal type
The first thing to note is that the Nytol One-A-Night don’t smell or taste as bad as the valerian-based herbal ones, so that’s a plus.
They were considerably stronger in effect than the herbal pills for me too. Strangely, I did feel a sedative effect with the others while still awake, which I didn’t with the One-A-Night.
I didn’t feel any effects the next day with the herbal pills though, so they both have their pros and cons.
Please remember that this was just my experience with the two types. It could be completely different for you, and as you’ll see in the comments below, people react differently to them.
Update: trying Nytol Original (25mg)
Nytol Original is very similar to the One-A-Night, except you take 2 x 25 mg pills instead of 1 x 50 mg.
So I was curious to see what would happen if I only took 25 mg, and if the lingering next-day effects would be less of an issue.
I tried just one pill for three consecutive nights and did find they were better for me. I still experienced a sedative effect – not as much as the 50 mg dosage, but enough to help me sleep a bit better.
The headache and fuzzy head weren’t as bad in the morning, though I didn’t feel 100% clear either.
So I think this is one to consider if you’d like to start with a lower dosage, or found the higher one made you feel groggy in the morning.
Update: trying other sleep aids that contain diphenhydramine
Nytol isn’t the only sleep aid that uses diphenhydramine as the active ingredient. I’ve now tried a couple of others and had a very similar experience each time.
So for me personally, I can be fairly sure that the sedative effect and potential side effects will be quite consistent no matter which brand I take.
From the instruction leaflet on the pack I bought, the ingredients are:
- Diphenhydramine hydrochloride 50mg
- Anhydrous lactose
- Microcrystalline cellulose
- Maize starch
- Stearic acid
- Silicon dioxide
Possible side effects
The leaflet describes the following possible side effects:
- Reduced attention
- Dry mouth
- Allergic reactions (like a rash, shortness of breath or swelling)
- Blurred vision
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Muscle twitching
- Pins and needles
- Nausea or vomiting
- Thicker bronchial mucus
- Difficulty urinating
If you notice any of these side effects, or have any other new symptoms when you take Nytol, stop taking the Nytol and consult your doctor or a pharmacist.
Who shouldn’t take it?
If any of the following conditions or situations apply to you, the manufacturer advises against taking it, or consulting a doctor first:
- Children under the age of 16.
- If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients.
- If you have: a stomach or gut obstruction, such as an ulcer.
- Asthma, bronchitis or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
- Narrow-angle glaucoma.
- Enlarged prostate or urinary retention.
- Moderate or severe liver disease.
- Myasthenia gravis, epilepsy or seizure disorders.
- You shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery.
- You shouldn’t drink alcohol.
- Intolerance to lactose or some sugars.
- If you’re taking other medication, talk to a doctor first. Especially antidepressants, atropine, other antihistamines or any that cause drowsiness.
- If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
- If your sleep problem lasts longer than 2 weeks, or you need a higher dose of Nytol to fall asleep.
Warnings for older adults
If you’re an adult over 60, I highly recommend consulting your primary care doctor, physician, or pharmacist before taking Nytol. And for that matter, any sleep containing the antihistamines diphenhydramine or doxylamine. This includes Advil, Tylenol, and Benadryl, for example.
The current guidelines in the United States is that sleep aids containing first generation antihistamines like diphenhydramine should be avoided by older adults.
Reading for older adults
If you’d like to find out more about this recommendation, here are some sources to start you off:
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh published an interesting study in 2018. Here’s a quote from their work that summarises the issue clearly:
Diphenhydramine has potentially harmful effects on older adults including risk of motor impairment and anticholinergic effects; its use is also associated with falls. Diphenhydramine may be especially dangerous in older adults due to its longer half-life compared younger individuals. Another safety risk of using diphenhydramine at night is the presence of a residual sedative effect the morning after use .
Pharmacytoday.com lists medications that are not recommended for older adults. This is taken from the Beers criteria, which are widely used by healthcare practicioners to guide treatment choices for older adults. They explain why diphenhydramine is to be avoided as:
…clearance reduced with advanced age, and tolerance develops when used as hypnotic; risk of confusion, dry mouth, constipation, and other anticholinergic effects or toxicity
The full Beers criteria was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, though you need to pay to access the full text. That’s why I mentioned the Pharmacy Today article instead.
Choosingwisely.org also briefly mentions that the antihistamines should be avoided.
Interestingly, in the UK, the website of the National Health Service only recommends starting with the lower dose if you’re aged over 65 because you’re more likely to get side effects. I think it’s wise to ask your GP for their advice first though if you plan on using it as a sleep aid.
Medicines.org.uk has an online patient leaflet for Nytol.
As well as discussing using it with your own doctor, you can use the Nytol website contact page to ask the manufacturer questions (not a paid link).
As well as considering sleeping pills, you might find it useful to read my own recommendations for sleeping better that don’t involve any medication.
Have you tried Nytol One-A-Night, Nytrol Original, or the herbal type?
Please leave a comment below describing your experience with them, and whether they helped you sleep better or not.