Overuse Of Over-The-Counter Medications Can Lead To Serious Problems Down The Road; Melatonin Recommended As Alternative


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A potentially dangerous trend is growing among teens looking for a good night’s sleep.

More and more of them are reportedly using sleep aids. And CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, experts think most of them are actually hurting, not helping.

Andrew Cartano clearly wasn’t getting enough sleep. The 17-year-old has a lot of company, as 97 percent of teenagers reportedly are sleep deprived.

“I couldn’t fall asleep and then I’d start worrying about not being able to fall asleep and that would keep me awake even longer,” Cartano said. “I’ve seen commercials for ZzzQuill and NyQuill and all that stuff, so I tried that at first.”

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Those and other easily accessible over-the-counter medications are commonly used as sleep remedies by teens and adolescents.

Morning-after grogginess is a common side effect.

Experts also warn of building a tolerance to these medications, and even potential liver damage from the overuse of acetaminophen, a common painkiller found in some sleep aid formulations.

“We would love for the children of teenage years to sleep anywhere between eight to 10 hours and most are not even coming close,” said Dr. Pakkay Ngai, a pediatric pulmonologist at Hackensack University Medical Center. “We’re looking for the quick fix. But it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.”

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Problems like early school start time, a long-standing issue for teens who are wired to stay up later and sleep later. Couple that with homework, after-school activities, plus all their screen time, and you have what doctors call poor “sleep hygiene.”

“If you don’t set up good sleep habits in their late teens, that is going to open a whole new population that can’t sleep well in their early adult years,” Ngai said.

Aside from hurting school performance, long-term sleep deprivation can lead to the development of cognitive issues. Some experts offer melatonin as a sleep aid. Most studies suggest it should be safe for teens, but, as always, check with your pediatrician.