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Is Your Medication Affecting Your Sleep?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 20, 2021

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, check your medicine cabinet. Insomnia can be a side effect of some widely used prescription meds, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements.

Prescription Medicines

Heart medications. Alpha-blockers treat high blood pressure and prostate problems. They can keep you from getting enough deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and make you feel sleepy during the day. Beta-blockers treat high blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, and chest pain. They also appear to lower your body’s level of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep cycle. That can make you wake up at night and give you nightmares. Other heart drugs, including ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II-receptor blockers (ARBs), cause side effects like leg cramps and coughing that can keep you up at night.

Antidepressants. Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) change the way your brain cells communicate. Doctors don’t know why, but insomnia is a common side effect of these medicines.

Corticosteroids. These lower inflammation and treat many illnesses, including asthma, allergic reactions, and immune-system problems like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. They can make you feel energized instead of sleepy.

Cholesterol medicine. Statins can lower your cholesterol levels, but they can also cause muscle pain that can make it hard to sleep.

Alzheimer’s drugs. Cholinesterase inhibitors help with dementia by boosting a brain chemical that controls memory and alertness. But they can also cause sleeplessness and bad dreams.

Stimulants. Doctors often prescribe these for ADHD and narcolepsy.

Asthma medicine. The oral drug theophylline can cause sleep problems, and some inhaled rescue medicines can make you jittery.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Cold and allergy meds. Non-drowsy antihistamines, like fexofenadine and loratadine, the decongestant pseudoephedrine, and the cough suppressant dextromethorphan can cause anxiety or jitteriness, which can lead to insomnia.

Pain medicine. Some remedies have caffeine, which is a stimulant that can keep you awake.

Weight loss products. These also can contain caffeine and other stimulants.

Stop-smoking aids. Nicotine is another stimulant found in patches and other products that help you break the smoking habit.

Supplements

Glucosamine and chondroitin. Many people take these together to relieve arthritis symptoms, and they can cause insomnia.

St. John’s wort. Some take this herb to treat insomnia, but it’s also known to cause it.

Vitamins. The science isn’t clear, but there’s evidence that people who take multivitamins have worse sleep than people who don’t.

What Can You Do?

Many things other than medications can cause insomnia. But if you’re having trouble sleeping, check the packaging of the meds you take or do some research to see if it’s a possible side effect. If it’s a supplement or over-the-counter drug, you can stop using it or try taking it at a different time of day. But don’t ever stop taking a prescription medicine without talking to your doctor first. Let them know about your sleep problems and they can probably offer a solution.

  • They might be able to switch you to a medication that doesn’t cause insomnia.
  • You may need a different dose. With some drugs, you have to experiment a bit to find the amount that manages your symptoms with the least side effects.
  • Taking your medication earlier in the day might reduce sleep side effects.
  • Your doctor may suggest a natural sleep aid like melatonin or a prescription sleeping pill.
  • Ask whether your condition can be treated without medication. For example, therapy may help you just as much as an antidepressant. And if you get more exercise and improve your diet, you may not need cholesterol medicine.

You may not have a choice about taking a medication that disrupts your sleep. But you can make changes to your lifestyle and bedroom that may help you get better rest.

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Get plenty of exercise early in the day.
  • Keep electronics out of your bedroom.
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Try not to have alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or a big meal within a few hours of bedtime.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

AARP: “10 Types of Meds That Can Cause Insomnia.”

Mayo Clinic: “Prednisone and other corticosteroids,” “Theophylline (Oral Route),” “Albuterol (Inhalation Route),” “Insomnia,” “Quit-smoking products: Boost your chance of success.”

NHS inform: “Insomnia.”

American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “What is Insomnia?”

Pediatrics: “Effect of dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, and placebo on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “St. John’s Wort.”

Sleep Medicine: “Vitamins and Sleep: An Exploratory Study.”

Psychiatric Times: “The Effects of Antidepressants on Sleep.”

National Sleep Foundation: “10 Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep.”

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