Mystery Files: Why Ibuprofen & Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Helps Me Sleep Better?

I’ve noticed this a couple of years ago and can not deny it – regular, OTC pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen [Advil, Motrin, and Nurofen] and acetaminophen/paracetamol [Tylenol] (aka NSAIDs) help me achieve deep and more refreshing sleep.

Could ibuprofen and acetaminophen effect GABA receptors? Could this have something to do with desensitizing the signals from a week  vagus nerve? And is it possible that these meds desensitize the brain from the stimulating action of excess of histamine and glutamine?

One obvious reason that anti-inflammatories could help one sleep is by reducing pain but I’m not in pain. So what’s up with all that?!

Science is Clueless?

What does science actually have to say about the mechanism behind Tylenol’s action? After some digging I’m stunned: scientists are not even sure how acetaminophen works!

Researchers have been guessing at acetaminophen’s mechanism of action for decades. Some explanations involve chemical messengers of inflammation and pain. Others invoke aspects of neurotransmission in the brain and spinal cord. None of the proposals have accumulated enough supporting evidence to satisfy everyone.

OK, move over science, I’m going to render my own speculations based on my keen self-observation and dangerous levels of self-education:

Temperature Control

My symptoms very closely resemble adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism or kidney jing and yang deficiency in TCM. One of the most annoying symptoms I experience at bed time are chills that prevent me from falling asleep. Acetaminophen snaps those chills within 15 minutes and I feel OK. This helps me fall asleep and is less likely to wake me from same chills again during the second part of the night.

Conclusion: Acetaminophen is helpful for symptoms of hyperthyroidism by ‘regulating’ body temperature.

Reduced Inflammation

The feeling in the morning is as if the body was submerged in restful sleep; just like the good ole’ times. I’m guessing that it is a quenched inflammation in the gut that is able to give the over-active immune system a break.

Conclusion: Tylenol desensitizes the brain from the stimulating action of excess of histamine and glutamine produced by inflammation or poor methylation and allows for GABA receptors to be more dominant at night.

Anti-Anxiety?

When I take Tylenol I actually feel relaxed and at ease at night. Interestingly, science is on to this effect as well.  In an article Tomorrow’s Anti-Anxiety Drug Is… Tylenol?, Scientific American examines how Acetaminophen played a role in altering judgement of a group of people. It hasn’t changed their emotional state per se but it made them more lenient and forgiving.  It took the edge off of something, that’s all. How bizarre is that?

Conclusion: Acting as an analgesic, Tylenol takes the edge off of high cortisol or other brain irritants that can cause CNS agitation.

Double-Whammy?

One of the most peculiar ‘warnings’ that may sound as welcome news to us insomniacs comes from “Acupuncture Today” which strongly recommends avoiding taking acetaminophen with GABA because it could cause ‘excessive sleepiness.’  Really? I’m game!

Unsustainable

Main issue with using NSAIDs as sleep aid is that the practice is unsastainble. One can not take these every day. People with congested liver like mine would be wise to avoid them altogether. Long term use will create more problems than we ever wished for.

If you suspect inflammation is at the root cause of your insomnia then I would highly recommend natural anti-inflamatories such as CBD oil, raw tart cherry juice (cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any other food out there and increase melatonin production), turmeric, omega 3s and many others.

Final Thoughts

Nurse forums are full of stories about patients asking for Tylenol to help them sleep. There is something to it but no one is quite able to put their finger on the exact mechanism. My own experience shows that it definitely helps with sedating the nervous system.  Be it via reducing the stimulating effects of cortisol or inflammation related neurotransmitters, or keeping me warmer by blocking hypothyroid signals from the vagus nerve, both ibuprofen and acetaminophen/paracetamol are helpful in achieving a more restful slumber.

Over to you… Am I on to something here? What are your experiences with ibuprofen and acetaminophen?

14 comments… add one
  • JC May 1, 2018 Link Reply

    I’m a chronic insomniac, and very few medications help me STAY asleep (my main problem). However, I was recently injured playing basketball and was given prescription strength ibuprofen. To my surprise, not only did it ease the pain of a torn calf; it also helped me get a DEEP sleep. And it reliably did so for the days I was on it, so I tried it again after a week off of it (no more pain), and there I was again sleeping like a baby.

    To your deductive points above, my diet is fairly good, and I work out, so I’m not sure this phenomenon has to do with inflammation of the gut, at least for me. I do, however, see how it could be some anti-cortisol agent, since my stress levels are often through the roof. Indeed, a major reason I work out – hard – is to try and limit my weight gains through rough patches (I tend to gain a lot and quickly while under deadline).

    All said, I came across your post, because I was curious whether I could find the underlying mechanism to my quality sleep ibuprofen, so that I wouldn’t need to keep using what appears to could hurt me long-term. This has provided me some great clues and a pointing in the right direction(s). Thanks!

    And if you do find, once and for all/most, the underlying mechanism, please don’t hesitate to share here. I’d love to know and put this (+ me!) to rest.

    • insomniacnextdoor May 13, 2018 Link Reply

      Hi JC, this is pretty bizarre, isn’t it? If your cortisol is high your nervous system is in the sympathetic dominance mode and that will cause inflammation. I would be very careful with those work outs and allow yourself plenty of cooling and relaxing activities.

  • tryahammer Nov 15, 2018 Link Reply

    I am 52, and usually sleep very well, since about a year ago I started having tooth pain about once a month and I usually take an Advil (regular Advil) before going to bed when it happens. I noticed that when I take Advil I sleep deeply and wake-up feeling great, one other thing is that I get up almost every night to pee at around 3-4AM and when I take Advil I sleep right through and when I wake up there is no rush to go to the washroom. So I am wondering if it would be wise to take Advil more often? would it affect my health positively?

    • insomniacnextdoor Nov 18, 2018 Link Reply

      No, not really. Advil becomes too toxic on the liver when taken long term. Now you know, however, that you have some form of inflammation taking place. It’s time to look for a source which could be anything from food sensitivities to heavy metal toxicity. One thing to try with inflammation is CBD oil. Do you have access to it?

  • Joyful Jun 20, 2019 Link Reply

    Hi there. I discovered your website while looking for information about stopping ambien. So much good stuff to read and I’m appreciating the comments sections as well. Started 5 mg seven years ago to help sleep when I had serious back nerve pain which was fixed totally with surgery 6 years ago but still on the ambien which I’m pretty sure I don’t need. (Im female 55 yo). A year ago I went down to 2.5 but it was the worst if both worlds – some sleep but not enough and still zolpidem in my system. Now I’m a week totally off and it’s tough going. Tried melatonin, antihistamine, a little of some old codeine different nights. Taking 50 mg CBD each night seems to maybe be slightly calming. Just took 100mg Gabapentin from the back problem days and two acetaminophen. Will see how tonight goes. Now back to reading your posts!

    • insomniacnextdoor Jun 26, 2019 Link Reply

      Wow, you ARE tough and it seems you will pull through. It is hell but worth it! I would also add some L-Theanine to your mix… Hang in there.

  • Dave Aug 30, 2019 Link Reply

    I don’t have chronic pain of any kind but discovered on my own that if I take 2 Tylenol (2x500mg) at bedtime (plain, not Tylenol PM) I’m assured of falling quickly to sleep and staying asleep all night. If I forget to take it sometimes I’ll fall asleep anyway but if I toss and turn I just get up, take 2 tablets and within half an hour I’m out like a light.
    I wake up feeling great. Amazing stuff.

    • insomniacnextdoor Aug 31, 2019 Link Reply

      Dave, it works because it subdues inflamation. Please take my advice and look for the source of inflamation, instead of taking Tylenol on daily basis. You can do a lot of damage to your liver if you take it on a regular basis – this is a well established medical fact.

  • franky Sep 2, 2019 Link Reply

    Hi,
    I suffer from sleep problems for over 20 years. I dream a lot and even if i manage to sleep for hours i feel very tired when i wake up. I’ve tried a hundreds things but nothing worked.
    Recently i noticed that when i took ibuprofen that my sleep is much better. The sleep is deeper and i feel refreshed when i wake up. I googled and only found this blog. I have no idead why it worked but it seems to work.

    • insomniacnextdoor Sep 4, 2019 Link Reply

      As I mentioned in another answer – it helps with an inflammatory process. There is a source of inflammation and you need to find the cause to address it. One of the things that helped a lot for me was CBD (there are previous posts and videos about it). What other symptoms are you experiencing? Let’s brain storm together if you want.

      • Franky Sep 5, 2019 Link Reply

        thanks for your comment.
        I also have neckpain/backpain or headache. Not that often but it occurs some days. Not sure if that’s related to any of this but it could be. but even if that pain is gone my sleep is still bad. Well i also have Gilbert’s syndrome. Not sure if that’s related to anything…

        I’ll try CBD. thanks for the advice!

  • Franky Sep 6, 2019 Link Reply

    BTW, I’ve read more stuff from your page. I have many amalgam in my teeth. i wonder now if that’s related too coz i often have headache and even years ago it felt like the pain comes from the mouth to my head.

    • insomniacnextdoor Sep 9, 2019 Link Reply

      Franky, almost certainly mercury is at play and could be the root cause of your health issues. It is for me. Please read those books and other resources and get that poison out of your mouth (safely) and then detox gently with Andrew Cutler method.

      • Franky Sep 11, 2019 Link Reply

        thanks. i will go through all those resources.
        but how to really be sure that’s the cause? Is there any fast and secure test to find out if i’m allergic to mercury?

Leave a Comment