Using Trazodone for Sleep Problems

Kirsten Schuder
Insomnia Treatment Options

Trazodone medication is an option many doctors prescribe to patients who are suffering from severe insomnia. The medication is usually used to treat depression, not for specific sleep disorders. Trazodone's main side effect is drowsiness.

Trazodone Use for Insomnia

Trazodone hydrochloride is a medication mainly used to treat depression. It is sold under the brand name of Desyrel. Doctors use it "off label" in some situations, to help treat those with severe sleep disorders, including insomnia. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved Trazodone as a sleep aid.

Off label use of a medication is not illegal. The FDA regulates how medications can be advertised and promoted, but not how doctors can prescribe them, specifically for off label use. Doctors may go off label when a medication has shown promise in treating a patient for a condition not necessarily approved for by the FDA. Healthcare providers often take great steps to insure providing this medication to patients is acceptable.

Considerations for Use

Doctors take extensive precautions for giving this medication to patients as a sleep aid. Trazodone works as a sedating antidepressant. Nearly 41 percent of patients that take the medication will have a significant amount of drowsiness.

Since the medication does cause this high amount of drowsiness in patients, doctors treating insomniac conditions may consider its use even in patients without any depression side effects.

Sleep and Depression

On the other hand, those who are suffering from both sleep problems and depression seem to benefit very well from taking Trazodone sleep treatments. Patients taking other antidepressants for depressive conditions often face insomnia more often as most antidepressant medications cause sleeplessness. In these patients, doctors may couple other antidepressant use with Trazodone.

General Use of Trazodone

Follow your doctor's prescription requirements when taking Trazodone. Sleep aids like this often have to be taken at a regular schedule to insure that they are going to work. Doctors often prescribe this medication to be taken up to three times a day for patients being treated for depression.

Those using Trazodone as a sleep aid will likely take the medication only one time per day, right at bedtime. Often, doctors prescribe a low dose of this medication for sleep aid use.

Potential Side Effects

Since Trazodone is a sleep medication, it is essential to consider the risks that accompany these medications.

In some teens and children taking antidepressants, there is an increased risk of worsening symptoms including depression and suicidal thoughts. If you experience irritability, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, restlessness, or rapid speech after taking this medication, speak to your doctor immediately.

There are some potential side effects of taking Trazodone as well. Symptoms may include some or all of the following:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness, tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth, bad taste in mouth
  • Decrease in sexual interest or in sexual function
  • Flu-like symptoms including headaches, muscle pain, and congestion

Most of these symptoms are likely to be mild and may occur only at the start of taking the medication. Other symptoms can be a sign of a significant problem and you should immediately talk to your doctor prior to continuing to take the medication. This includes fainting, tremors, blood in urine, and intense nightmares. These can be signs of complication.

Some people may also experience changes in their heartbeat, which should be immediate reported to a doctor.

Precautions

In some people, taking an antidepressant can cause a worsening of symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you suddenly have suicidal thoughts, increased anxiety, panic attacks, trouble getting to sleep or disturbed sleep, easily irritable or angered, increase in impulsivity, feeling restless, and talking very rapidly.

Serotonin syndrome can occur if two drugs that act on serotonin are taken together, such as taking trazodone with an SSRI, or increasing the dose on trazodone. This can cause the body to be flooded with serotonin. This is a life-threatening reaction and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome are:

  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Perspiring heavily
  • Fever, confusion
  • Involuntary muscle contractions
  • Overreactive reflexes
  • Shivering and tremors
  • Loss of coordination

Even herbal remedies, such as valerian root and St. John's wort, which have a similar action on the brain as antidepressant drugs, can cause serotonin syndrome when taken together with trazodone. If you are taking trazodone, you should discontinue use of these herbs while you are on the medication.

Another consideration for Trazodone is a serve allergic reaction. Though rare, it can happen in some individuals. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include trouble breathing, rash or redness, severe dizziness or swelling. Stop taking the medication and seek immediate help for these symptoms.

Using Trazodone as a Sleep Aid

There is little doubt that antidepressants should be used carefully in any situation. Talk with your doctor about the sleep problems you are having, including the sleep deprivation symptoms, causes and treatments you already used. If your doctor does recommend Trazodone, sleep aids or other treatments, let them know about its effect on you, especially if you notice any potential problems.

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Using Trazodone for Sleep Problems