Whenever you come down with a pesky cold or a case of the flu, you probably reach for a familiar bottle in your medicine cabinet when it comes time to try and sleep off your sickness. Yep, we’re talking about Vicks NyQuil — and honestly a lot of the brand’s sibling products.
Notoriously known as a knockout potion, NyQuil doses your body with acetaminophen (a pain reliever and fever reducer), dextromethorphan hydrobromide (a cough suppressant) and doxylamine succinate (a powerful antihistamine) all in one. It can help relieve your most uncomfortable symptoms quickly and allow your body to get the rest it needs to restore its healthy status, but it can also give you some pretty wild dreams. Like, dancing with talking unicorns and falling to your doom in the center of a volcano, dreams.
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Why is that exactly?
Well, most experts blame it on the doxylamine succinate. Antihistamines are known for their drowsy side effects, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep, but they can also create some interesting interactions once you’ve drifted off to dreamland.
Antihistamines block the production of histamine, a certain kind of neurotransmitter, in your brain. (Makes sense, right?) It’s responsible for regulating your appetite, your body temperature, inflammation and — you guessed it — your sleep-wake cycle. And doxylamine specifically blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which triggers rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and, therefore, is in charge of your dream state.
So what happens is your NyQuil dose puts off REM sleep longer than your normal sleep cycle typically does and then, as the medicine wears off, your brain experiences a rush of acetylcholine, creating a quick rebound of REM sleep in an attempt to make up for lost time. And its that quick shift that leads to all of your bizarre (and often terrifying) dreams.
It’s also worth noting that NyQuil isn’t the only company that uses doxylamine succinate in cold and flu medicines, so if you’re not ready to experience the wild adventures that your imagination has in store for you while on the mend, maybe read those ingredient labels and skip this bad boy.
This article originally appeared on Swirled.
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