Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Unisom Bad For You?

Also Known As: Chattem sleep aid



Short answer

Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid, is effective for short-term use in managing insomnia. Its active ingredients, doxylamine succinate and diphenhydramine HCl, can promote sleep but come with side effects like dry mouth, dizziness, and daytime drowsiness. Long-term use is not recommended due to risks like tolerance, cognitive impairments, and potential dependence. Though Unisom can be helpful for occasional sleeplessness, weighing its benefits against risks is crucial for safe usage.



Long answer

Overview of Unisom and Its Active Ingredients

Unisom is a widely utilized over-the-counter sleep aid, designed to assist individuals in overcoming short-term sleeping difficulties. Due to its efficacy and accessibility, Unisom has become a popular choice for those seeking to improve their sleep quality. However, to fully understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of this medication, it is crucial to delve into the specifics of its active ingredients.

Unisom comes in several formulations, each containing different active ingredients with distinct mechanisms of action. The most common active ingredients found in Unisom products include:

  • Doxylamine succinate: Found in Unisom SleepTabs, doxylamine succinate is an antihistamine that blocks the production of histamine and acetylcholine in the body, leading to sedative effects. This action helps decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and can improve sleep maintenance throughout the night.
  • Diphenhydramine HCl: Present in Unisom SleepGels, SleepMelts, and PM Pain, diphenhydramine HCl is another antihistamine with sedative properties. Similar to doxylamine, diphenhydramine works by blocking histamine action, helping to induce sleep.

Both of these active ingredients are effective for the short-term management of insomnia, primarily due to their ability to induce drowsiness. It's essential for users to choose the appropriate Unisom product based on their individual needs and health conditions.

Despite their effectiveness, it's crucial to be aware of the potential side effects associated with these ingredients. Common side effects can include dry mouth, dizziness, constipation, blurred vision, and daytime drowsiness. It's also important to note that long-term use of antihistamine-based sleep aids like Unisom is not recommended, as it can lead to tolerance and diminished effectiveness over time.

When considering Unisom as a sleep aid, consulting with a healthcare provider is advisable to ensure it's appropriate for your specific situation. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions, particularly those affecting the liver or respiratory system, or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, should exercise caution and seek professional advice before use.

Short-Term Side Effects of Taking Unisom

Unisom is a widely used over-the-counter sleep aid, primarily containing the antihistamine diphenhydramine (in products labeled Unisom SleepTabs) or doxylamine succinate (in products labeled Unisom SleepGels or SleepMinis). While these ingredients are effective at promoting sleep, they can also lead to various short-term side effects. Recognizing these potential adverse effects is crucial for anyone considering Unisom for sleep difficulties. The severity and occurrence can vary from person to person, depending on individual sensitivity, dosage, and other factors.

Drowsiness: The primary effect of Unisom, intended drowsiness, can sometimes persist into the next day, leading to a feeling of grogginess or impaired alertness. This can affect activities that require attention, such as driving or operating machinery.

Dry Mouth and Throat: Antihistamines like those found in Unisom can decrease saliva production, leading to a dry mouth or throat. Staying hydrated and using lozenges may alleviate these symptoms.

Blurred Vision: Another common side effect is blurred vision, which occurs due to the anticholinergic effects of the drug, affecting the eye's ability to focus.

Constipation or Urinary Retention: The anticholinergic effects can also impact the digestive and urinary systems, leading to constipation or difficulty in urinating.

Dizziness or Lightheadedness: Users may experience dizziness or lightheadedness, particularly when standing up quickly from a sitting or lying position.

It's important to note that while these side effects are generally not severe, they can become bothersome and may interfere with daily activities. The frequency and intensity of these side effects can vary widely among individuals. Some people may not experience them at all, while others may find them significantly disruptive.

In addition to individual reports and experiences, research studies have provided insight into the prevalence and extent of these side effects. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine highlighted that participants using antihistamine-based sleep aids reported higher rates of daytime drowsiness compared to those who did not use these medications.

Before taking Unisom, it's advised to consult with a healthcare professional, especially for individuals with pre-existing conditions, those taking other medications, or those who are pregnant or nursing, to mitigate potential risks and ensure safe usage. Additionally, considering non-pharmacological approaches for insomnia, such as improving sleep hygiene or cognitive-behavioral therapy, may be beneficial for some individuals.

Potential Long-Term Effects of Chronic Use

Unisom, a popular over-the-counter sleep aid, contains the antihistamine Doxylamine Succinate, which is effective in inducing sleep for short-term relief of occasional sleeplessness. However, the chronic use of Unisom can lead to a variety of potential long-term effects that users should be aware of.

One of the main concerns with the long-term use of Unisom is the risk of developing tolerance. This means that over time, the same dose becomes less effective, leading individuals to increase their dosage to achieve the desired effects, which can amplify the risks of adverse outcomes.

Besides tolerance, chronic use of Unisom could result in cognitive and memory impairments. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the long-term use of anticholinergic drugs like Doxylamine Succinate is associated with an increased risk of dementia. The effect was dose-dependent, meaning that the risk increases with higher doses or longer use periods.

Furthermore, physical dependence can occur with long-term Unisom use. Although less common than with other substances, withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, irritability, and anxiety, may occur if the medication is abruptly stopped after extended periods of use.

Another potential long-term effect is dryness, affecting the mouth, eyes, and nasal passages due to the anticholinergic properties of Doxylamine Succinate. Over time, this can lead to discomfort and complications such as dental problems and increased risk of eye infections.

Elderly users are particularly at risk of experiencing adverse effects from chronic Unisom use, including confusion, constipation, urinary retention, and falls or fractures due to impaired coordination or dizziness.

In conclusion, while Unisom can be an effective short-term solution for insomnia, its long-term use comes with several potential health risks. It is crucial for individuals considering or currently using Unisom for extended periods to consult with healthcare professionals to explore safer alternatives and address underlying issues contributing to sleep disturbances.

Unisom and Dependency: Understanding the Risks

Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid, contains either diphenhydramine HCI (in Unisom SleepGels, SleepTabs) or doxylamine succinate (in Unisom SleepTabs) as its active ingredient. While these medications can be effective for occasional sleeplessness, understanding the potential for dependency is crucial in making informed decisions about their use.

Physiological vs. Psychological Dependency

Dependency on Unisom can be categorized into two main types: physiological and psychological. Physiological dependency occurs when the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and higher doses are required over time to achieve the same effect, a phenomenon known as tolerance. Conversely, psychological dependency happens when a person feels they cannot sleep without taking the medication, despite there being no physical dependence.

Risk Factors for Dependency

  • Duration of Use: Using Unisom for an extended period, typically beyond two weeks, can increase the risk of dependency, as the body may become accustomed to its effects.
  • Existing Mental Health Conditions: Individuals with a history of substance abuse or mental health disorders are at a higher risk for developing a dependency on sleep aids, including Unisom.
  • Dosage: Habitually taking higher doses of Unisom than recommended can accelerate the development of dependency.

Recognizing Dependency Signs

Identifying the signs of Unisom dependency early can help mitigate risks and lead to better management strategies. These signs include:

  • Inability to sleep without Unisom
  • Increasing the dose over time to achieve the same sleep quality
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, or nausea when not using the drug
  • Continued use despite adverse effects on health or daily functioning

Expert Opinions and Studies

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, long-term use of over-the-counter sleep aids like Unisom is not recommended due to the lack of long-term efficacy data and the risk of dependency. Healthcare professionals often emphasize non-pharmacological approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), as the first line of treatment.

In summary, while Unisom can be an effective short-term solution for insomnia, understanding and respecting its potential for dependency is crucial. Users should practice caution with its use, adhere to recommended dosages, and consider non-pharmacological treatments for long-term sleep management.

Interactions With Other Medications and Alcohol

Unisom, a popular over-the-counter sleep aid, contains the active ingredient doxylamine succinate, a first-generation antihistamine. While it's commonly used to treat short-term sleeping problems, its interactions with other medications and alcohol can significantly alter its safety and effectiveness. Understanding these interactions is crucial for anyone considering Unisom to manage their sleep disturbances.

1. Interactions with Other Medications:

Unisom can interact with a wide range of medications, potentially leading to increased side effects or decreased efficacy of either Unisom or the other drugs. Notable interactions include:

  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: Concurrent use with other CNS depressants such as benzodiazepines, opioids, and muscle relaxants can enhance sedation and respiratory depression. This combination should be approached with caution, and dosage adjustments may be necessary.
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): Patients taking MAOIs for depression or Parkinson’s disease should avoid Unisom. MAOIs can prolong and intensify the anticholinergic effects of antihistamines, leading to unwanted side effects.
  • Anticholinergic Drugs: The anticholinergic effects of Unisom can be amplified when taken with other medications with anticholinergic properties, such as certain antipsychotics, antidepressants, and drugs for overactive bladder, potentially increasing the risk for anticholinergic toxicity.
  • Alcohol: Unisom’s sedative effects can be drastically enhanced when consumed with alcohol, increasing the risk for severe drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired motor coordination. This combination could also heighten the risk of respiratory depression.

2. Special Considerations:

Before using Unisom, a comprehensive medication review with a healthcare provider is advisable, particularly for individuals taking multiple medications or those with chronic health conditions. Special attention should be given to medications with overlapping pharmacologic properties to avoid potentiation of effects or increased side effect burdens.

3. Safety Measures and Recommendations:

  • Avoid alcohol while taking Unisom to prevent excessive sedation and potential respiratory depression.
  • Consult a healthcare professional before starting Unisom if you are taking other prescription or over-the-counter medications, including herbal supplements.
  • Be cautious of the additive sedative effects when Unisom is used with other CNS depressants.
  • Report any unusual symptoms or side effects to your healthcare provider immediately, as they may signify harmful interactions.

In conclusion, while Unisom is an effective over-the-counter option for the short-term management of insomnia, its interactions with other medications and alcohol require careful consideration. By being cognizant of these interactions and taking appropriate precautions, users can safely incorporate Unisom into their sleep management strategies.

Comparing Unisom to Natural Sleep Aids

Sleep is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being, but achieving a good night's rest can sometimes prove challenging. For those struggling with sleep disturbances, options range from over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids like Unisom to various natural remedies. Understanding the differences between these solutions can help individuals make informed decisions about their sleep health. Below, we explore how Unisom compares to natural sleep aids in terms of efficacy, safety, and other key factors.


  • Unisom: The active ingredient in Unisom, doxylamine succinate, is an antihistamine that has been proven effective in facilitating drowsiness and promoting sleep. Its efficacy is backed by clinical studies, demonstrating its capacity to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and improve sleep quality and duration for individuals experiencing temporary sleep disturbances.
  • Natural Sleep Aids: Common natural sleep aids include melatonin, valerian root, and lavender. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is supported by extensive research showing its effectiveness in addressing jet lag and certain sleep disorders. Valerian root and lavender have also shown potential benefits in improving sleep quality, though their effects may vary from person to person, and more research is needed to confirm their efficacy across broader populations.

Safety and Side Effects

  • Unisom: While generally safe for short-term use, Unisom can cause side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness, and cognitive impairment. Long-term use of Unisom is not recommended, as it may lead to dependence or increase the risk of dementia, particularly in older adults.
  • Natural Sleep Aids: Natural sleep aids are often perceived as safer alternatives due to their non-pharmacological origins. However, they are not without their potential side effects and interactions. For instance, melatonin can cause headache, dizziness, and nausea. It's important for individuals to consult healthcare professionals before starting any natural remedy, especially if they are pregnant, nursing, or taking other medications.

Interactions with Other Medications

  • Unisom: As a medication, Unisom can interact with various prescription drugs, including antidepressants, antianxiety medications, and other substances that depress the central nervous system. Such interactions may exacerbate side effects or diminish the efficacy of one or more of the involved medications.
  • Natural Sleep Aids: Similarly, natural sleep aids can interact with other medicines. For example, valerian root may enhance the effects of sedatives, and melatonin can interfere with blood thinners and diabetes medications. Consulting a healthcare provider is crucial to avoid adverse interactions.

Accessibility and Cost

  • Unisom: Being an OTC medication, Unisom is readily available in drugstores and online, making it a convenient option for many. It's generally affordable, though prices can vary by location and brand.
  • Natural Sleep Aids: Natural remedies can be purchased at health food stores, pharmacies, and online. While some, like melatonin, are comparably priced to OTC sleep aids, others may come at a higher cost, especially if opting for certified organic or high-quality sources.

In conclusion, both Unisom and natural sleep aids present viable options for those seeking to improve their sleep. The choice between them should be based on individual health conditions, preferences, potential side effects, and interactions with other medications. Consulting with a healthcare professional can provide personalized guidance, ensuring that individuals select the most appropriate and safe option for their needs.

Frequently asked questions

Natural sleep aids such as melatonin, valerian root, and lavender can provide sleep benefits with potentially fewer side effects than Unisom. Their efficacy varies among individuals, and while they are generally safer, they can still cause interactions and side effects for some. Consulting with a healthcare provider is best when considering these alternatives.

Yes, long-term use of Unisom, which contains anticholinergic substances like doxylamine succinate, has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive impairments in some studies. This risk is thought to be dose-dependent and more significant in older adults. Short-term use is generally considered safer, but any concerns should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Unisom is intended for short-term use, typically not recommended for longer than two weeks. Prolonged use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and potentially increase the risk of long-term cognitive impairments. If you're experiencing persistent sleep disturbances, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider for alternative solutions.

Combining Unisom with medications for anxiety or depression, especially those with sedative properties, can increase the risk of excessive sedation, respiratory depression, and other side effects. It's essential to consult a healthcare provider before combining Unisom with any prescription medication to ensure safety and prevent potential interactions.

Ask a question about Unisom and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth and throat
  • blurred vision
  • constipation or urinary retention
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

Possible long-term side effects

  • tolerance
  • cognitive and memory impairments
  • physical dependence
  • dryness of mouth, eyes, nasal passages
  • increased risk of dementia
  • adverse effects in elderly (confusion, constipation, urinary retention, falls)

Possible withdrawal symptoms

  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • anxiety

Ingredients to be aware of

  • doxylamine succinate
  • diphenhydramine hci


  • effective in inducing drowsiness
  • reduces time to fall asleep
  • improves sleep maintenance

Healthier alternatives

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 04-29-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 04-29-2024

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