Sedation is the principal side effect of first generation H1 antihistamines, and recent studies have suggested that this side effect should limit the clinical application of these drugs. The sedative effect also underlies the use of these first-generation drugs as nonprescriptive remedies for insomnia. In both cases, the potential for tolerance to the sedative effect of these drugs is an important issue for which there are few objective data. In the study reported here, 15 healthy men age 18 to 50 years received either diphenhydramine 50 mg or placebo twice a day for 4 days in a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial design. Dependent measures included objective and subjective assessments of sleepiness and computer-based tests of psychomotor performance. Both objective and subjective measures of sleepiness showed significantly higher levels on day 1 for diphenhydramine compared to placebo. By day 4, however, levels of sleepiness on diphenhydramine were indistinguishable from placebo. Similarly, diphenhydramine produced significant impairment of performance that was completely reversed by day 4. These data provide the first objective confirmation that tolerance develops to the sedative effect of a prototypical first-generation H1 antihistamine, diphenhydramine. On this dosing regimen, tolerance was complete by the end of 3 days of administration. While other antihistamines and dosing regimens may differ, these results suggest that tolerance to the sedation produced by these drugs develops with remarkable rapidity.