How Prescription Drugs Affect Sleep

prescription drugs

The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health report, Effects of Drugs on Sleep, states that: “Chronic use or abuse of certain drugs may lead to the development of substance-related sleep disorders. Primary sleep disorders, such as apnea, periodic movement disorders, and parasomnias, may be exacerbated by various drugs.”

According to a Harvard Report on how External Factors Influence Sleep, the impact of prescription medications on sleep varies from one type to the next. For instance, beta blockers, which are commonly used to reduce blood pressure, cause decreased slow-wave sleep and in important REM sleep, while increasing sleepiness during the daytime hours. Alpha blockers, also used to reduce blood pressure and to treat some prostate conditions, also lead to decreases in REM sleep as well as boosts to daytime sleepiness. Some antidepressants, known as SSRIs, are believed to actually promote insomnia. The long-term impact of other antidepressant drugs on sleep are, as of yet, unknown.

Drugs that Commonly Impact Sleep

While this list is far from all-inclusive of the medications that impact your ability to sleep, including contributing to insomnia, these are some of the prescription medications most commonly associated with sleep disruptions.

  • Hormones (such as birth control medications)
  • Prescription diet pills
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) medications
  • High blood pressure medications
  • Asthma medications
  • Heart medications
  • Thyroid medications
  • Steroids
  • Antidepressants

That doesn’t mean that over-the-counter medications will not disrupt sleep as well. According to WebMD, many over-the-counter medications for headaches and colds contain caffeine, which is a known stimulant. Over the counter diet pills and medications containing Pseudoephedrine may also disrupt sleep.

Be careful and avoid mixing prescription medications with over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, alcohol, or narcotics without first discussing the potential interactions between the medications with your physician or pharmacist.

sleeping pills

Can Sleeping Pills Help?

Many people turn to sleeping pills, such as Ambien and Lunesta, yet another form of medication, for help when they’re unable to get the right number of hours of sleep or proper quality of sleep on a regular basis. However, without first figuring out the underlying cause of your sleep problems, it’s not always easy to figure out the right types of sleeping pills to suit your needs—or even if sleeping pills are necessary. Sometimes the solution is as simple as adjusting the dosage of your prescription medications or switching to medications that may have less of a stimulant effect.

There are some over-the-counter sleeping aids that have helped people to sleep when used on a temporary basis. That said, you should never seek to self-medicate with sleeping pills or other medications without discussing the decision with your physician and/or pharmacist for advice on what could be the proper course of action to meet your needs.

You don’t have to avoid all prescription medications for fear of losing sleep. However, you should be aware of the potential prescription medications have for leading to sleep disruptions so that you can quickly identify potential problems being caused by your sleep medications before a sleep disruption becomes a chronic problem.

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