What Drugs Affect REM Sleep

Learn facts about insomnia.

What drugs affect REM sleep? If you are taking any medication, it could be interfering with the quality of sleep you get. If your sleep is unable to enter into REM, chances are good you are waking up feeling tired even after a full night's rest. The problem here is that medications can easily stop you from entering deep sleep.

Knowing What Drugs Affect REM Sleep

In many cases, medications are behind an individual's inability to sleep properly. Medications are often the cause of sleep problems. Some can cause drowsiness, but when you do fall asleep, you still wake up tired. Look at the following types of medications and their effect on all types of sleep.


Antidepressants are stimulators, commonly working to increase brain function. These medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Common brands include:

  • Fluoxetine or Prozac
  • Sertaline or Zoloft
  • Paroxetine or Paxil

People who take these medications may experience fatigue during the day. The medications can disrupt sleep patterns, too. Antidepressants are often in use to treat narcolepsy, or severe daytime drowsiness. This can affect the quality of sleep during the night.

Sympathomimetic Stimulants

Sympathomimetic stimulants are intense central nervous system stimulants. These work to enhance the effect that brain chemicals have on a person to help keep them awake. Some of the most common types of these medications include:

  • Pextroamphetamine or Dexedrine
  • Methoylphenidate or Ritalin
  • Pemoline or Cylert
  • Methamphetamine or Desoxyn

Those who take these medications may have a hard time falling asleep. Once they do fall asleep, they struggle to remain in REM sleep and non-REM deep sleep. When a person stops taking these medications, they may be very tired. In some cases, they crave REM sleep.


Diuretics remove fluid from the body. There are numerous types of these medications. Because they work to remove excess sodium and fluid from the body, they can interfere with REM sleep simply because you are consistently getting up at night to urinate. In addition, many of these pills lead to a potassium deficiency. This can lead to nighttime leg cramping and pain. Because a person cannot remain asleep long enough, the REM and overall sleep cycle is compromised.


Clonidine is a specific type of medication that is used to treat hypertension and to stop nicotine cravings in some people who want to stop smoking. The medication works by acting on the nerve cells that respond to neurotransmitter norepinephrine. During the day, you may feel tired and fatigued even after a full night's rest. However, this medication can also interfere with REM sleep. You may be unable to enter REM sleep properly. Other problems associated with this medication include nighttime restlessness, nightmares and even waking up too early and being unable to go back to sleep.

Medications with Alcohol

Some medications contain alcohol. This is common with cough medicines in particular. However, these medications commonly cause a suppression of REM sleep. Alcohol in general is a drug that can affect the ability of an individual to enter and remain in REM sleep properly.

Other Medications Interfering with REM

When learning what drugs affect REM sleep, it is also important to take into consideration the following medications and their effect on a person's sleep.

Medications Interfering with REM
  • Medications with Caffeine: Over the counter and prescription strength medications, which are painkillers or suppressants for the appetite often contain caffeine. This stimulate blocks the action of adenosine. Adenosine helps to promote drowsiness. Those who have too much of this mediation prior to sleep may be unable to enter REM sleep.
  • Beta Blockers: Beta blockers are an important tool doctors use to help treat hypertension, angina and arrhythmias. However, these medications frequently cause nighttime awakenings. They can also promote insomnia in some people.
  • Some Antihistamines: Specifically sedating antihistamines can interfere with REM sleep. These are medications taken to fight allergies. During the day, they can cause drowsiness. However, these medications can also lead to difficulty sleeping well at night.
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What Drugs Affect REM Sleep