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Night-Time Cough Remedies & Effects on Sleep

Posted: Children & Teens » Winter Health » Sleep » Medicine Chest » Children's Health | December 1st, 2004



The Thinking Parent newsletter

As much as your sick child and yourself need sleep, it does not appear that cough syrup or an antihistamine will help either of you sleep. Parents of 100 children (aged 2 to 18) with upper respiratory infections (i.e., runny nose and cough) participated in a study evaluating the effectiveness of dextromethorphan (found in Robitussin) and diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl) as compared to a placebo.

Parents completed a survey about their child’s coughing and its effect on sleep. Then, the children were randomly assigned to either receive the cough syrup Benylin, the antihistamine Diphen AF or simple syrup (placebo) for one night. The next day, the parents again completed the survey.

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Parents reported less coughing and less of an impact of coughing on both child’s and parent’s sleep the second night as compared to the first night. However, there was no difference between the medication groups as compared to placebo. That is, neither the dextromethorphan (cough syrup Benylin) nor the diphenhydramine (antihistamine Diphen) was any more effective than sugar water (placebo) in reducing coughing or increasing sleep.

There was a trend for the cough syrup to be more likely to cause insomnia and for the antihistamine to cause drowsiness. Given the potential adverse effects of both dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine, coupled with the results of this study, parents may want to reconsider administering either of these medications for nighttime cough. It may be a simple matter of time that ultimately improves cough and sleep for both children and parents.

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Source: Paul, I. M., et al., July 2004, Effect of dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, and placebo on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Pediatrics, 114, e85-e90.

© Jennifer Hahn

Dr. Jennifer Hahn is the editor of The Thinking Parent, a quarterly publication reviewing research of interest to parents: child development and parenting, pregnancy and childbirth, physical health, mental health and education. With more than 12 years of experience in research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Hahn received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and completed her residency at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. She is the mother of two daughters.

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