Are Meds Behind Sleepless Nights?
Many drugs can interfere with sleep. Learn what factors might lead to restless nights and sleepy days.
You may have trouble falling asleep, or maybe you tend to wake up a lot. For some people, changes in sleep — like getting sleepy earlier in the evening — may be a part of aging. But if you often have problems sleeping, it’s important to find a solution. Getting a good night’s sleep may help reduce your risk for health issues, improve mood and help with overall well-being.
Sleep problems could be because of an underlying sleep disorder or medical illness. Medications could also disturb your sleep.
Talk to your doctor
If your sleep problems are severe or ongoing, talk with your doctor. They may look for causes such as sleep disorders or medical problems that disturb sleep. And they may review your medications. It’s important to discuss with your doctor all medicines you take, including herbal supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
Your doctor will probably look at your lifestyle habits and environmental factors for a cause of sleep problems. After that, they will look for signs of any medical problems that can interfere with sleep. These may include:
- Arthritis and other conditions that cause pain
- Heart failure, which can cause you to be short of breath when you lie down
- Neurological or pulmonary disorders
- Psychological disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety
Your doctor may also check for the following types of sleep disorders:
- Insomnia, which affects nearly half of adults older than 60
- Sleep apnea, a condition that can cause you to wake up frequently at night because of trouble breathing
- Restless legs syndrome, an uncomfortable sensation in one or both legs when you’re at rest
Your doctor may send you for a sleep study, which can tell you if you have issues like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.
Medications and sleep
Some medications or combinations of them can also interrupt your sleep. Medications can unravel a normal night’s sleep in a number of ways. Talk with your doctor to check if your medicine could be impacting your sleep. But do not make changes to your medications without their input.
Some medicines can suppress REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement. It is the sleep phase during which we dream. Our brains also need it to process what we learned and commit things to memory.
Medications can also stimulate or depress the central nervous system.
Medications that can have a stimulant effect
These drugs activate the central nervous system, making you more alert and awake. They can make it hard to fall asleep. You may also wake up more often at night. Examples include certain:
- Over-the-counter decongestants
- Over-the-counter headache medicines
- Beta blockers
- Asthma drugs
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression
Sedatives can make you drowsy. If drowsiness causes you to take long naps during the day, it could make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. Some medications used to treat depression or chronic pain can have this effect. Some antihistamines used to treat allergies also cause drowsiness. Your doctor can help determine if your particular medication falls in this category.
Diuretics, which cause the kidneys to eliminate water, may make you have to urinate at night. This can interrupt your sleep. These medications may be prescribed for treatment of high blood pressure or heart failure.
What can you do to keep my medications from interfering with sleep?
Talk with your doctor. If your medications are causing your sleep problems, there could be several things that your doctor may suggest. They may:
- Change the timing of your medication. For example, if one of your medications is sedating, your doctor make suggest taking it at night. Medicines that have a stimulant effect could possibly be taken in the morning and may even help you be more alert during the day. You may also be able to avoid taking diuretics within a certain time of going to bed.
- Adjust your dose. Your doctor may lower your dose or decrease how often you take it so it affects your sleep less.
- Switch medications. If you are still having trouble getting to sleep, talk to your doctor. It may be possible to switch to a different type of medication.
Remember, don’t stop taking your medication or make changes without talking to your doctor.
Emily A. King contributed to this report.
By Louis Neipris, MD, Contributing Writer
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Insomnia. Accessed May 27, 2021.
National Institutes on Aging. A good night’s sleep. Accessed May 27, 2021.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Brain basics: Understanding sleep. Accessed May 27, 2021.
Roehrs T, Roth T. The effects of medications on sleep quality and sleep architecture. Accessed May 27, 2021.
Last Updated: June 2, 2021