Drugs, Alcohol and Sleep

Drugs and Sleep

A number of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can cause sleep problems. These problems will vary depending on the individual.

Prescription medications which might cause sleep disturbances include:

  • High blood pressure medication
  • Oral contraceptives or hormones
  • Steroids such as prednisone
  • Diet pills
  • Respiratory medicines
  • Stimulants such as ADHD medication
  • Antidepressants

The following over-the-counter drugs can cause sleep problems:

  • Pseudoephedrine-containing drugs
  • Caffeine-containing drugs
  • Nicotine, a stimulant, can also disrupt sleep and reduce total sleep time. Illegal and illicit drugs are also known to disturb sleep, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines. Illicit stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine, are known to keep a person awake for days at a time followed by a profound “crash” during which a person will sleep for an extended period of time.

    Alcohol, Alcoholism and Sleep

    Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not an effective sleep aid. Although it can induce drowsiness, the quality of sleep is compromised as it fragments the second half of the sleep period as the alcohol is metabolized. Alcohol can increase the number of times you wake up in the night as the relaxing effect wears off. It can also prevent the deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phases you need, and keeps you in the lighter sleep phases.

    Alcohol can worsen existing sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. People with sleep disorders should limit or eliminate alcohol use and be extremely cautious. Moderate to high levels of alcohol can narrow the airway which causes episodes of sleep apnea, even in people who would not otherwise have the disorder. According to a recent study, patients with severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) have five times the risk for fatigue-related car accidents compared to other OSA patients who do not drink alcohol.

    Nursing mothers should avoid drinking alcohol as babies who receive alcohol in breast milk are known to have disturbed sleep patterns.

    Continued consumption of alcohol at nighttime can decrease the sleep-inducing effect but increase the disruptive effects. This leads to problems with daytime alertness and can cause more driving accidents. The elderly are at a risk because they achieve a higher blood alcohol level than younger people, even after consuming the same amount. Bedtime alcohol consumption for older adults might lead to decreased coordination and increase the risk of falling or injuries.

    During the withdrawal period from chronic alcoholism, sleep disturbances are common. These include increased time falling asleep, frequent awakenings, and decrease in quality of sleep which, in turn, leads to daytime fatigue. Abrupt or “cold turkey” withdrawal can lead to severe insomnia with marked sleep fragmentation.

    In some cases, this leads to increased REM sleep and hallucinations during the withdrawal period. In patients with severe withdrawal, the sleep may consist only of REM phases and be interrupted by frequent awakenings.

    Although sleep will begin to normalize after the withdrawal period, sleep patterns may never return to normal, even after years of abstaining from drinking. It is also important to note that sleeping problems experienced by recovering alcoholics may increase the risk of relapse.

    If you are interested in finding out more about drug and alcohol's affect on sleep quality, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563 and one of our representatives will be happy to answer any of your questions.