Nytol and I have a bit of a history, much of which isn’t healthy (think: overdose). For this reason, even though it isn’t a prescription med I’m going to review it like the others; I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a thing or two about Nytol, and I want to give a warning about overdosing. I’m not sure what the American equivalent to Nytol is, but I think diphenhydramine, the active ingredient (a sedative antihistamine) is found in Benadryl. In the UK it is sold as an over the counter sleeping pill, in boxes of either 2-a-night or 1-a-night tablets.
I turned to Nytol as a sleep aid when I was taken off zopiclone, and initially I went for the herbal pills. I didn’t find them to be of any use, so the next day I headed to my local pharmacy and slightly nervously asked for the real thing (I was semi sure my GP wouldn’t approve and I guess the paranoid part of my brain was scared the pharmacist would know that). I left with a box of the two-a-night pills, which are 25mg each. The idea is you take one a little before bed time, and if that isn’t enough to help you sleep you take another one. The maximum recommended dose is 50mg per night.
Initially I was really disappointed with this sleep aid, but with hindsight I was asking too much of it. 50mg guarantees me a few solid hours of sleep, but it doesn’t help me get to sleep any faster, and unfortunately that’s my biggest problem. When I bought Nytol I was hoping it would knock me out, and it didn’t. But that was my only complaint; Nytol helps me sleep better, and I haven’t experienced any drowsiness the following morning (unlike zopiclone), which is a big positive. However it has to be said that the effects reduce pretty quickly with time, and I’ve found these pills to be semi-useless after about three days. Nytol is certainly not a long term sleep improvement aid.
Pros: Nytol certainly improved the depth and quality of my sleep, without leaving me feeling awful the next day.
Cons: It didn’t help me with my main problem of taking forever to fall asleep.
Conclusion: When used correctly as a short term sleep aid this OTC medication can do an excellent job.
Unfortunately there have been occasions where I’ve been in bad enough places to want to be knocked unconscious, and at these times I’ve turned to Nytol. I’m not at all proud of this, and given what I wrote above about how this sleeping pill doesn’t speed up the falling-asleep process it was pretty stupid. If anyone reading this has ever considered overdosing on these pills, please read what follows and know that you’re potentially making a big mistake if you take more than the recommended 50mg. It won’t knock you out, and not only will it make you feel ill, but it could also endanger your life. I’ve been suicidal, and trust me, I wouldn’t choose to go this way.
250mg (5x recommended dose) = hospital admission
The first time I overdosed on Nytol I was desperate to knock myself out, so I took five 50mg tablets. Despite the flood of antihistamines into my brain it still took me ages to fall asleep, and the following day I couldn’t stop shaking. I had a routine appointment with my CPN that morning, and when she saw me shaking she spoke to a consultant who told me to go to A&E. I was 99% sure I hadn’t taken a particularly dangerous dose so thought that was a bit of an overreaction, but I wasn’t in a position to argue so I did as I was told. I expected to be assessed, have a blood test, and then be allowed to leave. More fool me.
The triage nurse did a couple of tests, and when she put the blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitor on me, some kind of alarm started to sound off. I didn’t think anything of it until the nurse quickly re-did the tests, and then marked me on the computer as being an urgent patient needing to be seen by a doctor within the hour. To my absolute shock and horror the nurse said she needed to take me to the major incident department, and explained that my heart rate was dangerously high, so I suddenly found myself having to change into a hospital gown and wait on a bed. I had a cannula put in and enough blood drawn that I almost fainted, and a nurse gave me a syringe-full of mystery fluid (I really wish I’d asked what it was). As we waited for the blood test results a doctor came over and explained the various things he’d do if my heart rate didn’t naturally slow back down soon, and attempted a psychiatric evaluation. Since I’d come to A&E directly from a psychiatric hospital under the instructions of a consultant psychiatrist he let me off.
A few hours later my heart rate came down and I was discharged with a warning not to do that again. That experience haunts me, a) because I hadn’t expected what I had assumed was a ‘safe overdose’ (NO SUCH THING) to be so dangerous, and b) because the staff were not exactly friendly. The A&E receptionist treated me like an unbelievable moron when I explained my situation to her, and the nurses in the department I was sent to didn’t disguise their (reasonable) dislike of me wasting their time.
500mg (10x recommended dose) = very ill
Being an unbelievable moron (yes, that receptionist was right), I didn’t learn my lesson, and the next time I felt really low I reached for the rest of the box. Initially I took 300mg of Nytol and sat watching TV, waiting for it to kick in. After an hour I didn’t feel any different, so I took another 200mg. Even as I write this I can’t believe how stupid I was…
It turned out that I hadn’t noticed any differences because I hadn’t moved much – a little while after reaching the 500mg dose I tried to stand up to go to the bathroom and WOAH the world span. My legs didn’t seem to be working either, and I decided I was going to have to crawl to my bed. To be honest I don’t remember an awful lot about what happened between standing up and falling asleep, but when I woke up I found a saucepan next to my pillow, so I’m guessing I felt sick and put it there as a precaution. I also remember hallucinating, seeing moving patterns across surfaces I knew to be plain.
I felt very, very ill the next day. I threw up many times, and it’s probably a miracle that I didn’t vomit in my sleep and choke. My movements were very sluggish, and there was a couple of seconds delay between seeing something and my brain actually registering it. I felt awful, and I thoroughly deserved that. I managed to visit my GP (a friend in the waiting room asked me if I was drunk when I staggered in), and to my relief he didn’t think I needed to go back to hospital. I spent the rest of the day in bed, and it was at least 48 hours before I felt well again.
Please, please don’t make the same mistakes I did.