Drug and Alcohol Related Sleep Disorders

Featured Article, Mental Health & Sleep Center, Sleep
on February 10, 2014

Sleep disturbances have been associated with drug use, drug abuse, and withdrawal from drug abuse. Sleep disturbances also have been linked to the use of alcohol and to chronic alcoholism.

Drugs and sleep

Many prescription and non-prescription medicines can cause sleep problems. The severity of sleep problems caused by a medicine will vary from person to person.

Prescription drugs that might cause sleep problems include:

  • High blood pressure medicines
  • Hormones such as oral contraceptives
  • Steroids including prednisone
  • Respiratory medicines
  • Diet pills
  • Attention deficit /hyperactivity disorder medicines
  • Some antidepressants

The following non-prescription medicines can cause sleep problems:

  • Pseudoephedrine, including the brand Sudafed®
  • Medicines with caffeine (These include the brands Anacin®, Excedrin®, and No-Doz®, as well as cough and cold medicines.)
  • Illegal (or illicit) drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines
  • Nicotine, which can disrupt sleep and reduce total sleep time. (Smokers report more daytime sleepiness and minor accidents than do non-smokers, especially in younger age groups.)

Alcohol and sleep

Alcohol often is thought of as a sedative or calming drug. While alcohol might induce sleep, the quality of sleep is often fragmented during the second half of the sleep period. Alcohol increases the number of times you awaken in the later half of the night when the alcohol’s relaxing effect wears off. Alcohol prevents you from getting the deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you need because alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep.

With continued consumption just before bedtime, alcohol’s sleep-inducing effect might decrease but its disruptive effects continue or increase. The sleep disruption resulting from alcohol use might lead to daytime fatigue and sleepiness. The elderly are at particular risk for alcohol-related sleep disorders because they achieve higher levels of alcohol in the blood and brain than do younger adults after consuming an equivalent dose. Bedtime alcohol consumption among older adults might lead to unsteadiness if walking is attempted during the night, with increased risk of falls and injuries.

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