American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition

American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition

November 03, 2018
2 min read

Parents commonly use OTC medications as sleep aids for kids

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Milankaik Ruth
Ruth Milanaik

ORLANDO, Fla. — Over-the-counter medications like Benadryl are commonly administered to children as a sleep aid by their parents, according to research presented at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition. More than three-quarters of parents who gave these drugs to their children were not recommended to do so by their child’s pediatrician nor did they disclose this information to the pediatrician, researchers wrote.

“I believe that many parents feel that OTC means safe, and that is simply not the case,” Ruth Milanaik, DO, associate professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “Many products are not recommended for children, and just because a product is natural or herbal does not always mean the product is safe.”

The researchers examined how parents used these medications as sleep aids for their children using an anonymous, online, three-part survey. The analysis included 406 parents of children between the ages of 5 and 11 years. The survey collected data on demographics, drug administration, drug efficacy and related side effects.

The average age of the children was 7.5 years. The most commonly used OTC drug to promote sleep in children was Benadryl, with 23.9% of parents reporting any use as a sleep aid, followed by cough syrup (14.7%), NyQuil (7.95%), Tylenol PM (7.1%), Advil PM (5.7%), ZzzQuil (5%) and Unisom (4.05%). Nearly all parents who gave their child an OTC medication as a sleep aid reported that these methods were effective (Benadryl, 90%; Advil PM, 100%; Tylenol PM, 88.9%; NyQuil, 96.7%; ZzzQuil, 89.5%; Unisom, 86.7%; and cough syrup, 88.2%).

Kid getting medication from adult 
Although parents may commonly give children over-the-counter medications to help them fall asleep, research presented at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition demonstrates that these children may regularly experience side effects. Researchers suggest that pediatricians need to question parents on OTC medication use.

Despite parents’ common use of these products, they were less aware of the side effects listed on the drug labels (Benadryl, 78.2%; Advil PM, 52.4%; Tylenol PM, 63%; NyQuil, 75.9%; ZzzQuil, 47.4%; Unisom, 46.7%; and cough syrup, 71.4%). Parents also frequently reported that their child experienced side effects as a result of taking the medication (Benadryl, 25.3%; Advil PM, 20%; Tylenol PM, 29.6%; NyQuil, 24.1%; ZzzQuil, 16.7%; Unisom, 33.3%; cough syrup, 27.1%).

According to the researchers, 78.3% of parents who used OTC medication for their children as a sleep aid did not discuss this with their pediatrician.

"Pediatricians need to specifically ask parents if they are using any OTC medications or herbal supplements for their children,” Milanaik said. “These products are readily available and are therefore assumed to be safe. Because of this, it does not occur to parents to discuss the topic with their child’s pediatrician.” – by Katherine Bortz


Milanaik R, et al. Parent reported frequency, efficacy and side effects of over-the-counter medication use for improved sleep in 5- to 11-year-olds. Presented at: AAP National Conference & Exhibition; Nov. 2-6, 2018; Orlando, Fla.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.