But an often-overlooked factor in a bad night’s sleep may also be the medications that you are taking. Whether it’s for an underlying condition of mental or physical health, to control a chronic condition, or for help with a temporary issue, medications can play with your metabolism and internal clock, disrupting your sleep and causing a next-day hangover from a lack of sleep.
Surprisingly, there are no clear conclusions on why humans or other animals need sleep. There are theories that the body is using that time to recharge, conserve energy, make use of our calorie intake, or replacing brain cells. There is extensive research that shows your body, and particularly your brain, is active when you are asleep, performing tasks and doing general housekeeping.
There’s also a school of thought that sleep is a defense mechanism that dates back to the earliest days of creatures walking the earth. Night hours were a time to lay still and avoid being trapped by unseen predators.
Whatever its origins, there is no doubt that humans need sleep. Studies have shown an increased rate of errors, accidents, irritability and cloudy thinking when there’s a lack of sleep. It also has been linked to such diseases as heart problems, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
More than 50 million Americans have long-term sleep disorders, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The organization also reports that an estimated 20 million more Americans have occasional problems falling asleep or staying asleep.
Likewise, Harvard Medical School has found that one in four people have some form of sleeplessness three nights a week or more.
MEDICATIONS CAN HURT SLEEP
When you take medication, you are trying to get the body back on track. Whether it’s to stave off an invading virus or bacteria, adjust a rhythm, or ease symptoms of a disease, medications are designed to work on the body’s systems and restore order.
Because of that, many medications can inadvertently cause sleep deprivation by stimulating certain sectors. It is important to ask a doctor whether the dosage should be adjusted or changed if sleep problems persist, as perhaps an alternative treatment or therapy may be available that won’t disrupt sleep.
Here are some of the medications that may cause sleepless nights.
1) Alpha-blockers – These are used to treat high blood pressure, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and Raynaud’s disease. Alpha-blockers relax muscles and keep blood vessels open, help improve urine flow in older men, and generally lower blood pressure. But they can also cause a decrease in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which can lead to memory issues. Such drugs as Uroxatral, Cardura, Minipress, Rapaflo, and Flomax can cause issues with sleep.
2) Beta-blockers – Used to combat hypertension and abnormal heart rhythms, beta-blockers slow the heart rate. They are used to treat angina, tremors, migraines and some kinds of glaucoma. The drugs include Lopressor, Toprol, Coreg, Tenormin, and Inderal. A nightly dose of melatonin may be used to counteract this group of drugs and get some rest.
3) Corticosteroids – These drugs help with inflammation of muscles and blood vessels and are used to treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, allergic reactions and Sjogren’s syndrome. Sold as cortisone, prednisone and triamcinolone, corticosteroids work on the adrenal glands, stimulating your body systems and often causing unpleasant dreams. Changing the dose to a single drug taken earlier in the day may help.
4) SSRI antidepressants – The acronym for selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, these are used to help with moderate to severe depression. They block the reuptake of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter, which can help brain cells send and receive chemicals that can help with depression. Because the drugs can cause insomnia in about 10 to 20 percent of patients, it is important to consult with a physician if insomnia persists.
5) ACE inhibitors – Used for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and other condition, they help relax blood vessels. Sold under the names Mononpril, Prinivil, Mavik, Altace, Accupril and Vasotec, among others, they can cause conditions that disturb normal sleep, including aches, pains, diarrhea and leg cramps.
This is by no means a complete list of sleep-sapping medications. Many other drugs can cause insomnia, including such common antidepressants as Prozac and Zoloft.
Statin drugs, designed to help with high cholesterol and heart disease, can also be a problem. These drugs are used by millions of people under the names Lipitor, Mevacor, Crestor and Zocor. The fat-soluble statins – including Zocor, Mevacor, Vytorin and Lipitor – can cause insomnia or nightmares because they penetrate cell membranes and make it across the blood-brain barrier, disturbing brain chemicals that aid in sleep.
Many patients take statins just to lower cholesterol. This can also be accomplished through a healthy diet and regular physical activity, both habits with won’t disrupt sleep.
ALTERNATIVE SLEEP AIDS
Many medications contain caffeine or stimulants like pseudoephedrine, which are found in pain medications, decongestants and weight loss products. Because most people don’t visit the doctor merely because of a lack of sleep, they may inadvertently be taking things that are exacerbating sleep problems.
Some alternative therapies have proven effective in helping patients regain the ability to fall asleep easily. Always talk to a doctor before trying any new alternatives, as they may interfere with regular medications.
Here are some sleep alternatives:
1) Melatonin – This is usually used for travelers who are having trouble adjusting to the shift in time zones, but many use this over-the-counter supplement as a regular sleep aid. The body naturally produces melatonin, sending it into the bloodstream in increasing amounts at dusk and tapering off by morning -- so supplemental amounts should be of benefit. Keep in mind no long-term studies of its effectiveness or potential hazard exists.
2) Valerian – This is a root with a mildly sedative effect. It is believed to cause liver problems if taken long-term or in higher than recommended doses, so talk to a doctor before starting it. Most recommendations on its use suggest tapering off on it rather than stopping cold turkey when used for sleep issues.
Good sleep is vital to good health. If sleep is not coming easily, talk to a doctor about the various medications and alternatives that are available. It may be a matter of switching a few things to ensure safe and restful sleep.