Tribune Print Share Text

Lower back pain, Over-the-counter sleep aid

Created date

June 19th, 2012

Q. I have dull lower back pain when I wake up in the morning, but by the time I ve gotten dressed, it goes away. It only comes back if I skip my daily exercises. What could be causing it?

A. Low back pain is one of the most common health conditions, and most people experience it at least once in their lifetime. With age, arthritis is often the cause. Contrary to the old ways of thinking, rest is not good for arthritis pain. Activity, on the other hand, tends to relieve pain and increase flexibility, as you have noticed. It could be that since you are inactive overnight, your arthritis pain is more noticeable, or it could be that your mattress doesn t support your back well enough and puts a strain on your muscles. See your doctor for a full pain evaluation. A physical therapist may also be able to help by recommending different exercises for you and evaluating the type of mattress best suited to you.

Q. Lately I m not sleeping well. Is it safe for me to try an over-the-counter sleep aid?

A. Most over-the-counter sleep medicines contain diphenhydramine, which is an antihistamine that tends to make people drowsy. While it may be okay for some younger adults to use, this particular drug should be avoided by older adults. Studies show that it can have serious adverse effects such as blurred vision, confusion, hallucinations, urinary retention, dry mouth, and constipation. Use of diphenhydramine has also been associated with an increased risk of falls. Sleep problems can have many causes, including medications, health conditions, or a change in routine. Better sleep is possible without using medication. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. 

Dimitri Cefalu, M.D.

Medical Director,

Tinton Falls, N.J.

Dr. Cefalu received his bachelor s degree in zoology from Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and his medical degree from the University of Palermo in Palermo, Italy. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J. Board certified in internal medicine, Cefalu joined in April 2001.