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Does DayQuil Keep You Awake? (5 Sleeping Tips When Sick)

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  • This article has been medically reviewed by Darshan Shingala (M.D, MPH) – a qualified and practicing medical doctor – for maximum factual accuracy and reliability.

DayQuil is a multi-symptom relief medication used to ease the symptoms of cold and seasonal flu.

But what happens if you take DayQuil before bed – will it keep you awake or make you sleepy and how does DayQuil compare to NyQuil in the same respect?

DayQuil will not keep you awake because it doesn’t contain any stimulants. DayQuil will not make you sleepy because it doesn’t contain any compounds that induce drowsiness. However, NyQuil contains doxylamine that can make you drowsy and help you to sleep when you have a cold/flu.

Therefore, DayQuil is the non-drowsy version of NyQuil that can be taken in the day or before bed without it affecting your sleep – but you shouldn’t take DayQuil to stay awake because it won’t work due to the lack of stimulating ingredients (like caffeine – which is often found in other cold and flu medication).

The rest of this article explains how DayQuil and NyQuil affect sleep, whilst also providing you with 5 tips for getting better sleep when you’re sick with a cold, flu, or have nasal congestion.

Related: if you can’t get to sleep, try these 12 relaxation techniques now.

5 Ways to Sleep After Taking DayQuil When Sick

If you’re taking DayQuil and/or NyQuil to ease your cold or flu symptoms, then you can try these 5 non-medicinal ways to help you get better sleep when sick:

1: Use a Humidifier or Vaporizer to Ease Breathing

You may find comfort while trying to sleep if you use a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom when you have a cold, flu, and/or a congested nose.

This is because a humidifier or vaporizer will help to moisten the ambient air and make breathing through a congested nose much easier.

However, you must make sure that your humidifier or vaporizer is clean and free from germs at all times.

It is also highly recommended that you disinfect your humidifier or vaporizer properly at regularly scheduled time intervals because bacteria and germs can accumulate and multiply in these devices quite quickly.

2: Inhale Steam Before Bed to Open Your Airways

Another effective method to decongest your upper respiratory tract is to inhale steam before going to bed.

Steam vapors can help to loosen your nasal congestion and also moisten the dry air.

Steam can also ease a sore throat and provide some pain relief.

You can also try to add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to your steaming water because eucalyptus oil may have several beneficial health effects ranging from anti-inflammatory properties to inducing sleep.

Always take care when breathing in steam because a sharp inhalation can be uncomfortable – start with smaller inhales to ensure that you’re comfortable with the steam and allow the water to cool slightly if not.

3: Gargle With Lukewarm Saline to Soothe Your Throat

To soothe your sore throat, you can try gargling with lukewarm saline water right before you go to bed.

You can easily create this saline solution by mixing a quarter teaspoon of table salt in about one cup of lukewarm water.

Gargling can offer instant relief and it’s an easy home remedy to soothe your sore throat.

Gargling can also prevent the development and progression of bacterial infections such as strep throat.

Gargling is a cost-effective, natural, and safe method to tackle your flu symptoms.

4: Apply Nasal Strips to Clear Your Nose

Nasal strips can be applied across the bridge of your nose to ease your nasal congestion while you sleep by temporarily widening your nasal passage and creating more airspace for better breathing.

5: Elevate Your Head to Drain Your Sinuses

You can try to elevate your head using a few cushions while you sleep.

This sleeping posture will help you to breathe better while you are asleep by creating a natural incline to drain your sinuses.

The mucus and fluid build-up in your upper respiratory passage will gently clear out and it will help you to fall asleep quickly.

You can achieve this by stacking a few pillows under your head or by raising the level of your bed if possible.

However, avoid stacking too many pillows as it may add strain to your neck and you may suffer from neck pain, muscle tension, and discomfort.

Ideally, just two standard pillows should be sufficient to drain the mucus in your sinuses.

A safer way to elevate your head whilst maintaining good posture is to use an adjustable bed.

Although it may seem like a waste of money to buy an adjustable bed just for a cold, these types of beds can be an excellent investment if you have conditions like acid reflux, COPD, GERD, back pain, or you snore a lot because elevating your upper body can alleviate the symptoms.

Click here to learn more and see the best adjustable beds to buy now.

Guide to DayQuil and Sleep

Below is an explanation of what DayQuil is and how its mechanism of action relates to sleep.

DayQuil is Used to Treat Cold and Flu Symptoms

DayQuil is an over-the-counter medication that’s designed to treat a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headache, and/or a fever.

These symptoms are often caused by medical conditions such as the common cold, seasonal flu, sinusitis, bronchitis, or other respiratory diseases.

DayQuil can be taken via liquid-filled capsules (LiquiCaps) or as a syrup.

DayQuil contains a combination of three active ingredients: acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and phenylephrine which work as follows:

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen, also more commonly known as Paracetamol, is an analgesic and antipyretic drug.

In other words, acetaminophen relieves pain due to its analgesic effect and also reduces fever due to its antipyretic effect.

Dextromethorphan

Dextromethorphan belongs to a class of medications known as antitussives.

It relieves coughing by crossing the blood-brain-barrier and activating the sigma opioid receptors on the cough center in the central nervous system.

This mechanism of action suppresses the cough reflex, reduces the urge to cough, and thereby provides relief.

Phenylephrine

Phenylephrine is a nasal decongestant.

It activates the alpha-1 adrenoceptors in the arterioles of the nasal mucosa leading to vasoconstriction.

In turn, the vasoconstriction of the arterioles of the nasal mucosa decreases the nasal edema and stimulates the drainage of sinus cavities.

The Advised Dose of DayQuil Varies

The recommended dosage of DayQuil depends on a variety of factors, especially the age of the consumer, the indicated medical condition, and the form of the medication (pill form or liquid form).

For instance, for adults and children older than 12 years of age, up to two capsules can be prescribed every 4 hours, however, the patient must not consume more than four pills in 24 hours.

If the liquid form of DayQuil is prescribed, then, it is recommended to consume up to 30 mL every 4 hours as needed, however, one must not consume more than 4 doses in a span of 24 hours.

Warnings and Dangers

It is important to note that DayQuil should NOT be administered to children who are under the age of six years unless it is prescribed by their pediatrician.

It is important to be cautious of overuse or misuse of the ingredient dextromethorphan in DayQuil.

Dextromethorphan is a commonly misused drug because it can cause hallucinations if consumed at high doses.

Hence, it is important to strictly adhere to the indicated safe dosage of DayQuil and avoid the dangerous misuse of DayQuil or its ingredients.

DayQuil Can Have Side Effects

Although DayQuil is considered safe for consumption if used as directed, DayQuil may also have some minor and serious side effects.

Most of the side effects of DayQuil do not require medical attention as they often tend to resolve on their own.

Contact your health care provider if you experience a serious side effect or any minor side effect for a prolonged period of time.

Minor Side Effects

The more common and milder side effects of DayQuil consist of an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, anxiousness, and drowsiness.

Serious Side Effects

A serious side effect of DayQuil requiring urgent medical attention is that of an allergic reaction.

There can be a wide range of symptoms of an allergic drug reaction, including: difficulty breathing, breathlessness, difficulty swallowing, skin rash, hives, red and blistered skin, intense itchiness, swelling of tongue, lips, and throat, and edema of hands, legs, and feet.

It is very important to seek emergency medical help in case of experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms while consuming DayQuil.

DayQuil Can Interact With Other Medications

The active ingredients in DayQuil – acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and phenylephrine – may potentially interact with other medications or food items.

Hence, patients must exercise caution while consuming DayQuil because these drug-drug interactions or drug-food interactions may often be additive or synergistic in nature, which means that in comparison to their individual effects, they may cause more harm when consumed together.

If you are already taking drugs such as carbamazepine, isoniazid, phenobarbital, phenytoin, phenothiazines, or warfarin, please be informed that the acetaminophen in DayQuil can interact with these drugs and cause harmful effects.

It is also important to be cautious if you are already taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as isocarboxazid, phenelzine, selegiline, or tranylcypromine because the phenylephrine and dextromethorphan in DayQuil have been reported to adversely interact with MAOIs.

Please note that even if you have ceased the consumption of the above-listed drugs, there is still a likelihood for potential interactions to occur until they are out of your system.

Therefore, please be vigilant and always consult your doctor in advance.

Avoid Alcohol When Taking DayQuil

It has been reported that the interaction between DayQuil and alcohol can cause serious liver damage.

Thus, it is recommended to avoid using DayQuil if you consume three or more alcoholic drinks per day.

You must also avoid taking DayQuil with any other medications containing acetaminophen because excess intake of acetaminophen can cause poisoning and severe liver injury.

DayQuil Will Not Keep You Awake

DayQuil does not contain any stimulants that may otherwise interfere with your sleep and it also does not contain any drowsy ingredients which may make you sleepy.

Therefore DayQuil does not contain any ingredients that might affect your sleep and it is safe to use during the daytime while performing routine activities.

NyQuil Can Make You Sleepy

NyQuil is an over-the-counter medication designed to treat cold and flu symptoms and help you get to sleep.

NyQuil can make you feel sleepy because it contains doxylamine – an antihistamine drug that can cause drowsiness in many people.

However, you should NOT take NyQuil as a sleep aid because it also contains dextromethorphan – which can cause hallucinations in higher doses [1].

DayQuil Doesn’t Cause Drowsiness Like NyQuil

DayQuil does not contain doxylamine and hence, it is unlikely that you will feel sleepy after taking the recommended dose of DayQuil.

Despite being a non-drowsy formulation, some patients seem to have experienced mild lightheadedness after taking DayQuil.

However, it is quite likely that these are subjective effects of DayQuil because each patient responds differently to each medication, and not every patient may experience lightheadedness.  

Avoid Taking DayQuil With Other Sleep Medications

There is insufficient data to conclude as to how DayQuil might interact with sleep medications.

But it is highly recommended that you avoid taking any medications with sleep-inducing effects while you are taking DayQuil because there might be some unreported but dangerous drug interactions that may have adverse health outcomes. 

It is necessary that you seek professional advice from your health care provider before taking any form of sleeping pill in conjunction with DayQuil. 

Please also be aware that alcohol should never be used with the intention of inducing sleep.

Try Non-Medicinal Sleep Aids

If you struggle to fall asleep while you are recovering from a cold or flu, you can use some nonmedicated sleeping aids in addition to taking DayQuil to avoid any unnecessary interference.

For instance, you can try to create a quiet sleeping environment, use aromatherapy, listen to calming music and use a humidifier.

You can also try to properly schedule your sleep time, avoid consumption of coffee before bed and eat a light dinner in order to fall asleep quickly and improve the quality of your sleep.

DayQuil Won’t Make You Sleepy But NyQuil Will

In summary, DayQuil is a non-drowsy multi-symptom relief medication that won’t keep you awake if you take it before bed and should not be used to try and stay awake because it lacks the active simulating ingredients required to promote wakefulness.

DayQuil does not influence sleeping patterns or sleep quality.

Conversely, NyQuil contains doxylamine which is an antihistamine that can make you feel sleepy, but NyQuil should not be taken purely as a sleep aid because it can cause hallucinations in higher doses.

DayQuil is effective and safe to use, however, it may adversely react with alcohol, MAOIs, and other drugs.

As possible with other drugs, DayQuil may also have some minor side effects such as nausea, vomiting, nervousness, and stomach ache or serious side effects requiring immediate medical attention such as an anaphylactic reaction.

It is unknown if DayQuil interacts with sleep medications, but in general, it is safe to use with alternative nonmedicated sleeping aids.

Up next: 8 ways to get to sleep if you overthink at night.


Sources and References

[1] MedlinePlus – Dextromethorphan. Accessed 8/3/21.

Medical Disclaimer

Although this article was written by a qualified medical doctor, none of the information should replace the advice of your own doctor – always talk to a qualified professional first before taking any medication.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Woman Laying in Bed Sick’ by Vander (Getty Images Signature) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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