Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for a person to fall asleep or stay asleep for long periods. This results in the person feeling drowsy or fatigued during the day and also affects their attention span and level of concentration. There are two main types of insomnia — acute insomnia and chronic insomnia. The differences being the frequency and duration of enduring sleeplessness.
Acute insomnia is essentially short-term insomnia. Those who have acute insomnia suffer for a few days or at the most a couple of weeks. It is primarily triggered by life circumstances such as a sudden forced change in sleep habits, stress, anxiety, etc. This type of insomnia typically resolves on its own and doesn’t require treatment, though there’s no harm in seeking treatment either.
On the other hand, chronic insomnia is a long-term ailment and lasts for at least three or more months. Depression and extreme anxiety, prolonged disruption in sleep patterns, and unhealthy sleep habits are some of the reasons behind chronic insomnia. The medications used to cure or alleviate the causes of chronic insomnia are drugs that affect sleep. Certain medications are known to cause chronic insomnia and cause long-term issues with sleep deprivation. Anyone suffering from long periods of insomnia should seek treatment.
If you’re struggling with insomnia, consider your improving your sleep hygiene Maintain a consistent bedtime, keep your room quiet, and limit phone use. Cognitive behavioral therapy is another good option while sleeping pills should be the absolute final option to tackle insomnia. Sleeping pills also have side effects and can be addictive.
Old-Age and Insomnia
Cases of insomnia aren’t uniform across all age groups. As you get older, the chances of suffering from short periods or prolonged insomnia increases. Older adults are more likely to be impacted by insomnia due to the increased variety of medications they may be taking. They are more likely to be affected by medical conditions that disrupt sleep such as heart conditions, stomach ailments, and the need to frequently urinate. Then there are issues such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. For most of these medical conditions, one is prescribed medication and some of these are medications that can cause insomnia as a side effect.
However, medications aren’t limited to the elderly alone. People across all age groups have medicines that can cause insomnia. So, you need to be aware of the various types of medications that can affect your ability to sleep soundly and begin next morning refreshed.
Blood Pressure Medicines
In the 21st century, high blood pressure has become a common issue. Several types of medications are used to deal with and relieve high blood pressure or hypertension. The three types that also cause insomnia are alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
Alpha-blockers such as doxazosin, prazosin, and alfuzosin are used to treat both high blood pressure and problems with urinary discharge in older men. It essentially works as a muscle relaxant and allows smaller blood vessels to remain open, which improves the level of blood flow and thereby reduces blood pressure. The way it does it is by preventing norepinephrine (a hormone) from tightening blood vessel muscles. The muscle relaxant feature also helps those with prostate problems. However, consuming alpha-blockers also results in a reduction of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, along with a feeling of drowsiness during the day. Prolonged lack of REM sleep can also affect memory.
Medications such as carvedilol, metoprolol, atenolol, propranolol, etc., are used to help people with high blood pressure and those suffering from unusually high heart rates. These medicines block the effect of adrenaline (a hormone), which enables the body to lower the heart rate and thereby lower blood pressure. These medicines have been found to make a person wake up multiple times through the night. It’s believed that this happens because these medicines prevent a hormone called melatonin from secreting through the night. This hormone is responsible for regulating sleep and is also connected to what is known as the circadian clock.
Drugs such as benazepril, enalapril (Vasotec), lisinopril, benazepril, captopril, etc., are also used in combating high blood pressure. These are also used to deal with congestive heart failure. It functions somewhat similar to alpha-blockers in the sense that it stops blood vessels from constricting by preventing the production of angiotensin II in the body. If the blood vessels and veins remain broad/open, then blood pressure remains low. The problem is that the peptide that helps keep the blood vessels open, which is known as bradykinin, is also responsible for patients who take these medicines developing a severe cough. Close 30% of people who consume these medicines develop this cough, and it’s severe enough to disrupt sleep significantly.
Joint Pain and Inflammation Medicines
Drugs and dietary supplements used to treat inflammation and joint pains also fall under the types of medications that cause sleeplessness. These disrupt sleep in different ways, including forcing the body to be stressed or causing diarrhea and nausea.
Medicines that are categorized as corticosteroids are used to deal with both internal and external inflammation. So, it can be used to treat inflammation of blood vessels and muscles and at the same time used to tackle arthritis and gout. Cortisone and prednisone are some of the most common examples of corticosteroids. This group of medicines keeps the body on high alert and stresses all the systems in the body, which prevents the body or mind to relax enough to go to sleep.
Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin that are useful in treating joint pain and inflammation as well as in improving joint movement or function also have side effects that are known to cause insomnia. These supplements are also naturally present in the body, yet they can cause severe headaches, diarrhea, and nausea, which results in disruption of sleep.
Antidepressant medicines that are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed by the brain, which breaks the chain of chemical messages being relayed between brain cells and reduces depression. This antidepressant mainly affects serotonin, which is one of the many other neurotransmitters in the brain. Medical research hasn’t yet been able to crack how SSRIs function and consequently don’t know why it causes insomnia. However, what we know for sure is that at least one-fifth of the people who consume SSRI antidepressants complain of insomnia.
The research into Alzheimer’s disease and various other forms of dementia is at its peak at the moment. However, some of the medicines used to treat loss of memory, especially cholinesterase inhibitors have been found to disrupt sleep and cause insomnia. In order to understand why cholinesterase inhibitors cause insomnia, we need to examine how they function. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for our memory, alertness, and judgment. Cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine, etc., prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. These dementia medications ensure patients will have a larger daily supply of it. This allows them to continue functioning normally to a certain degree. However, this also disrupts involuntary processes in the body, including sleep.
Medicines that are used to treat allergic reactions such as H1 antagonists or antihistamines also block the breakdown of acetylcholine and hence cause the related side effects, including insomnia. Currently, second-generation H1 antagonists are available, which have fewer side effects than the first-generation drugs.
Medicines that are in the statin family, including lovastatin, atorvastatin, simvastatin, etc., are useful for treating cholesterol problems. Now the problem with statins is that it causes muscle pain, sometimes going up to the extreme or severe category, which makes it near impossible to sleep. Researchers have also found that statins sometimes disrupts muscle growth, though that isn’t related to insomnia.
Several other types of medicines also cause insomnia. Let’s take a look.
- Asthma Medicines: Some medicines used to treat asthma also contain corticosteroids, which, as explained above, disrupts sleep.
- Anti-smoking Medicines: The nicotine patches that are quite popular among people trying to quit smoking are also known to cause insomnia. The way these patches work is that through the day the patches release nicotine is tiny doses in the bloodstream, which can cause insomnia.
- ADHD Medicines: Medicines used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder do so by enhancing the person’s alertness. While it helps them deal with ADHD, as a side effect it can result in insomnia. Even if they do manage to fall asleep, it is mostly non-REM sleep, which isn’t as refreshing and beneficial to the body as REM sleep.
- Thyroid Medicines: Hypothyroidism, which is a result of an underactive thyroid gland, makes a person feel unnaturally sleepy or drowsy during the daytime. Thyroid medication used to tackle this inadvertently cause insomnia. However, it’s worth noting that unless the patient is consuming very high doses of such medicines, it’s unlikely to cause severe insomnia.
- Pain Relief Medicines: Most painkillers contain caffeine, which is a major cause of insomnia. So, to avoid this, you should pick up painkillers that don’t contain caffeine. Since painkillers are primarily bought over the counter, it’s up to you to check if it contains caffeine or not. You can check online beforehand to avoid any hassle at the pharmacy.
Our lifestyles are becoming increasingly fast-paced, with very little time to stop and give the brain some rest. We are bombarded with millions of bits of information — visual, text and audio. We are also increasingly becoming slaves to our smartphones and tablets, constantly straining our eyes for hours on end. In addition to all of this, issues such as depression and anxiety are at an all-time high all around the world.
In such a scenario, the importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be emphasized enough. Sleep is something we ignore, foolishly thinking that we will make up over the weekend by sleeping in longer. However, more often than not, that doesn’t materialize either as various household tasks stack up over the week. A proper eight hours of sleep rejuvenates the body and provides it with the necessary fuel to continue operating at the optimal level. More than the body, it’s the brain that requires sleep. The brain dictates our level of performance at work, and it also dictates our interpersonal relations. If the mind is tired and not functioning as it should, we fail to maintain a high level professionally, and our social skills drop as well.
If you have high blood pressure or if you’re suffering from severe depression, there’s basically no choice but to consume the prescribed medication and keep it under control. What you need to do is speak to your physician or therapist and find out how you can eliminate high blood pressure. If you need to adopt healthy lifestyle choices such as regular exercise or a controlled, balanced diet or regular therapy sessions, then do that. It will enable you to both tackle the medical condition you’re suffering from, and at the same time, you won’t have to consume the medicines that cause insomnia.