How Some Common OTC & Prescription Drugs Mess Up Your Slumber TimeInsomnia alert: Check your medicine cabinet to see if you’ve got any of these…

You’ve done your best to create a soothing, comfortable environment to get a good night’s sleep. Electronics have been turned off and pillows lightly misted with lavender essence. And yet, you’re still staring at the numbers on your clock in the wee hours of the night.

As you ponder why you can’t seem to get a good night’s rest, consider the drugs you’re taking – prescription, over the counter and even natural supplements. Some may contain ingredients linked to sleep disturbances. They include every-day medications that might be in your home right now, from cough syrup to pain relievers and herbal supplements.

“The key is to be aware of the myriad of medications that can interfere with your sleep,” says Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, board-certified sleep physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety. “If you are taking these medications and experiencing trouble sleeping, speak to your pharmacist or health-care provider.”

8 drugs that might be wreaking havoc with your sleep quality

  1. Over-the-counter decongestants for colds, allergies and hay fever. Read labels carefully and look for ingredients such as phenylephrine or pseudoehedrinecan. They are known to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and contribute to insomnia. The U.S. National Library of Medicine lists “sleeplessness” as a potential side effect of phenylephrine.
  2. Smoking cessation aids. Giving up cigarettes is a very good decision for your health but some products (or the ingredients) may also be interfering with your sleep. They include nicotine patches, lozenges and gum that stimulate the release of acetylcholine, a wake-promoting neurotransmitter. A 2010 review of nicotine replacement therapies found insomnia was an outcome among a small percentage of users.
  3. Pain relief medicine. You wouldn’t down a cup of coffee before bed, right? You just know you’ll be up half the night tossing and turning. What you might not be aware of is that some pain relievers, such as Excedrin contain caffeine – about 65 mg, the equivalent to one cup of coffee. Other types of pain medicines may also be problematic. “OTC medications that contain diphenhyramine or doxylamine, such as Advil PM, Tylenol PM, can cause restless legs syndrome,” notes Dr. Rosenberg, “and thus, do the opposite of what they were intended to do and keeping you up at night.”
  1. Cough syrup.  That hacking that can accompany colds and flu isn’t something anyone wants to endure, but reaching for cold syrup can carry risks, especially when it comes to their impact of quality of sleep. Many contain alcohol in the range of 1.5 to 5%. Some have as much as 40%. Avoid taking cough suppressants late in the evening since the alcohol is a sleep disruptor as it’s metabolized. A better option may be an alcohol-free formulation.
  2. Herbal supplements. Because they are largely unregulated, it’s up to consumers to do due diligence in investigating side effects of herbal remedies. St. John’s wort is a common one, used by some people to help treat depression. A cautionary note, according to the Mayo Clinic, is that it may cause insomnia and nervous system problems.
  3. Beta blockers. Some used for hypertension and irregular heartbeat such as propranalol and metoprolol can cause insomnia by depressing the production of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that plays an important role in the body’s wake-sleep cycle. Complicating matters is the fact that these drugs have been linked to an increase in nightmares.
  4. Prescription antidepressants. Known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, they include well-known brands like Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Prozac (fluoxetine), as well as the serotonin norepinehrinere uptake inhibitor, Effexor (venlefaxine). “All of these have been associated with insomnia,” explains Dr. Rosenberg. “Probably buproprion (Welbutrin) has the highest incidence of insomnia due to increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.”
  5. Asthma medication. Some contain theophylline, an ingredient used to help control inflammation in the lungs and ease asthma symptoms. The down side is that it has many of the stimulating properties of caffeine, which is not at all sleep-friendly. Talk to your pharmacist or physician to learn how to manage this side effect, if it’s an issue for you.

Rest well & wake up ready to go!

Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:


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This blog does not provide medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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