Drug- and Alcohol-Related Sleep Problems

Sleep problems have been associated with medication use, drug abuse, and withdrawal from drugs. Sleep disturbances also have been linked to the use of alcohol and to alcoholism.

Drugs and Sleep

Many prescription and nonprescription drugs can cause sleep problems. The severity of sleep problems caused by a drug will vary from person to person.

Prescription drugs that may cause sleep problems include:

The following nonprescription drugs can cause sleep problems:

  • Pseudoephedrine, including the brand Sudafed
  • Medications with caffeine. These include the brands Anacin, Excedrin, and No-Doz, as well as many cough and cold medications.
  • Illegal drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines.
  • Nicotine, which can disrupt sleep and reduce total sleep time. Smokers report more daytime sleepiness and minor accidents than do nonsmokers, especially in younger age groups.

 

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol often is thought of as a sedative or calming drug. While alcohol may induce sleep, the quality of sleep is often fragmented during the second half of the sleep period. Alcohol increases the number of times you awaken in the later half of the night, when the alcohol's relaxing effect wears off. It prevents you from getting the deep sleep and REM sleep you need, because alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep.

With continued consumption just before bedtime, alcohol's sleep-inducing effect may decrease as its disruptive effects continue or increase. The sleep disruption resulting from alcohol use may lead to daytime fatigue and sleepiness. The elderly are at particular risk for alcohol-related sleep disorders, because they achieve higher levels of alcohol in the blood and brain than do younger adults after consuming an equivalent dose. Bedtime alcohol consumption among older adults may lead to unsteadiness if walking is attempted during the night, with increased risk of falls and injuries.