Medications that can Interfere with Sleep

Prescription medications are designed to cure you of disease and discomfort, and for the most they’re highly effective at doing their job. However, this cure may come at the cost of other unwanted side effects, especially when it comes to sleep. It’s a painful tradeoff: symptom relief for insomnia. In fact, up to 20% of patients taking SSRI antidepressants experience difficulty sleeping – and that’s only one of the many drugs known to disrupt sleeping patterns.

Unfortunately, declines in health as we age only require more medication, explaining the increased rates of insomnia in older patients. This deficit of REM sleep, however, has been shown to exacerbate memory problems, which are already a natural concern of aging patients. If you’ve noticed that your symptoms are steadily improving but your sleep is only getting worse, it’s likely that your medication is to blame. Here is a look at the medications that can interfere with sleep:


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that have been shown to induce insomnia in 10-20% of patients. SSRIs include the popular drugs Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.


Alpha-blockers such as Flomax prevent the hormone norepinephrine from constricting the muscles in the vein walls, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. In addition to treating hypertension, alpha-blockers’ muscle relaxing properties can also help with urine flow for patients with prostrate conditions. Common side effects of alpha-blockers include decreased REM sleep, as well as increased daytime sleepiness. REM sleep deprivation is closely linked to memory problems.

Heart Medications

Heart medications include drugs prescribed to treat arrhythmia, high blood pressure, angina, and even high cholesterol. This includes beta-blockers such as Inderal used to circumvent adrenaline, which have been reportedly linked with insomnia, nightmares, and fitful sleep. Statins used to lower cholesterol have also been shown to cause similar symptoms, resulting in poor sleep for its patients. ACE inhibitors used in the treatment of congestive heart failure and high blood pressure can also negatively impact sleep by causing its patients to develop a chronic cough and muscle cramps.


Corticosteroids such a cortisone and Medrol are prescribed for inflammation in the veins and muscles. They are also effective in treating lupus, gout, allergic symptoms, and rheumatoid arthritis. Corticosteroids can negatively impact the adrenal glands, interfering with your ability to rest and triggering nightmares.


Antihistamines treat allergic reactions by counteracting the body’s release of histamine, the chemical which produces the inflammation and irritation associated with allergies. While antihistamines are commonly associated with the side effect of extreme drowsiness, second-generation H1 antagonists differ from their first-generation counterparts in that they are non-sedating, but can instead trigger anxiety and insomnia in patients.

ADHD Medications

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications such as Ritalin and Dexedrine contain stimulant-like attributes to maximize mental alertness. The downside is that this can also cause insomnia in its patients, and impair their ability to reach REM sleep.

OTC Painkillers

Over-the-counter painkillers such as Excedrin and Motrin commonly contain caffeine as an active ingredient, disrupting sleep for up to 8 hours after taking them. Make sure to check the label for caffeine before making your next purchase.

What to Do

If your medication has been impairing your ability to sleep, discuss potential alternative treatments with your doctor. If there is no alternative available, your doctor will likely adjust your dosage to minimize the side effects, or suggest that you take your medication at a certain time of day to work with your circadian rhythm.

In the case that little can be done about your medication, consult a skilled sleep doctor to investigate whether there may be additional factors impairing your sleep, and to develop a personalized treatment plan such as improving your sleep hygiene.

Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Shukla

If you’re worried that your medication may be interfering with your sleep, schedule a consultation with trusted sleep specialist Dr. Mayank Shukla at the Asthma Allergy Sleep Center of New York today.

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