Q. Do sleeping pills affect your memory?
A. Many drugs prescribed to help you get to sleep can affect memory. Those with the most noted effects are benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Librium, which are anti-anxiety drugs that induce drowsiness. A newer but related group of medications includes Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien. Clifford Saper, chair of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says that all of these drugs cause what’s called an amnestic response. “During the time the drug is active, you are not laying down any long-term memories,” he says. “It is like a blank period in your memory.” But the drugs do not seem to alter what you remember from before or after taking them.
Saper says that the sleep aid Rozerem is less likely to interfere with memory, as it works by interacting with the brain’s internal clock. Over-the-counter sleep aids that rely on the antihistamine diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl) also work through a completely different mechanism that does not interfere with laying down memories.
However, recent research at Indiana University has found that older adults taking medications that block the action of the brain chemical acetylcholine, which includes Benadryl and other common drugs, have a higher incidence of mild cognitive impairment, including memory problems, difficulty processing information, and performing complex mental tasks. Noll Campbell, an investigator at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, says that not everyone experiences these effects, but the findings underscore the benefit of trying non-drug methods to help you fall asleep.