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Medications that Affect Sleep Apnea

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Currently, no medications have been developed that counteract the causes of Sleep Apnea, whether it is Obstructive or Central. There are, however, medicines that promote wakefulness and are used to treat some of the symptoms of Sleep Apnea like excessive daytime sleepiness and respiratory difficulty. None of these medications are meant to be taken as the sole treatment for your Sleep Apnea.

  • Modafinil/Provigil: Modafinil, also known as Provigil, is a medication used by Sleep Apnea patients to combat fatigue and sleepiness during the day. It targets and stimulates the chemicals in the brain that improve memory and alertness. The medication has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. It is used as an additional treatment option for Sleep Apnea sufferers who still experience sleepiness during the day while undergoing other conventional treatments. The side effects of Modafinil may include nausea, back pain, headaches, anxiety or stress, dizziness, Insomnia, Rhinitis, and upset stomach. In extreme cases, the medication caused a dangerous rash, severe allergic reactions that caused the face and tongue to swell, and mental issues like hallucinations or suicidal thoughts. If you want to experiment with the effects of this drug, make sure you thoroughly consult with your medical provider to make sure that you are not at risk of an allergic reaction.
  • Acetazolamide/Diamox: Diamox is a medication used by mountain climbers and other people experiencing physical activity at extremely high altitudes. The medication helps decrease the number of apnea episodes during the night as well as decreasing sleepiness during the day. Low doses can treat Central Sleep Apnea, and higher doses show improvement in Obstructive Sleep Apnea patients. The downside, however, is that this medication shows a large risk for dose-dependency.
  • Serotonin Inhibitors: Prozac, which may also be called Paroxetine, Paxil, and Fluoxetine have been shown to help combat the symptoms of Sleep Apnea. The medication targets genioglossal muscle activity and stimulates it. This medication, and other selective serotonin inhibitors have shown a reduction in REM sleep. Because Sleep Apneas are more common during the REM stage, Sleep Apneas are less likely to occur.

What Medications Can Cause Sleep Apnea?

The following medications are not direct causes of Sleep Apnea, but that can directly contribute to the underlying causes of the sleeping disorder.

  • Anti-arrhythmic Drugs: Heart medications that treat problems with the rhythm of the heart are called anti-arrhythmic drugs. These medications contain things called beta blockers; they are used to treat hypertension, arrhythmias, and angina, but they can also lead to frequent nightly arousals and Insomnia. In some cases, heart medications even caused night terrors in patients who took them and had Sleep Apnea. There have even been reports of cholesterol-lowering drugs that disrupt quality sleep and cause nightmares.
  • Asthma Medications: Asthma medications are used to clean out the airways and reduce the amount of inflammation in the respiratory passage. Theophylline and other medications used to treat asthma have been linked to problems sleeping. Patients who use medications like Theophylline also tend to report feeling jittery during the daytime. Asthma medications contain chemicals called Corticosteroids. These chemicals are frequently suggested to patients with asthma and are related to caffeine. Because asthma medications contain caffeine-like chemicals, they can cause Insomnia and discomfort- raising stress hormones in the blood.
  • ADHD Medications: Stimulant medications that contribute to focus and alertness throughout the day are called ADHD medications and they are used to treat behavioral problems. These stimulant-like medications are used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. People who take these medications probably experience difficulty going to sleep. Some research supports the theory that people who take these stimulant medications are likely to spend more time in non-REM sleep. ADHD medicines include Ritalin and Dexedrine.
  • Anti-Smoking Medications: Smoking cessation products like the patch contain nicotine and are meant to help people stop smoking. In an effort to curb nicotine cravings, anti-smoking medications release a constant flow of nicotine into the body through the bloodstream. Many people who have used smoking cessation products complained of nightmares and trouble sleeping.
  • Thyroid Medications: Hypothyroidism is classified as having an under-active thyroid gland. The thyroid gland controls calcium regulation and the rate of metabolism in an individual. Having an inactive thyroid gland can cause extreme daytime fatigue. Unfortunately, many of the medications used to treat Hypothyroidism are associated with the restlessness and Insomnia associated with Sleep Apnea.
  • Over the Counter: Prescription medication is not the only medicine that can add to the risk of Sleep Apnea. Many over-the-counter medications can have negative effects on your sleeping habits as well.
    • Cold Medicine: Most medicines used to treat the symptoms of colds and allergies are classified as antihistamines. This medication can cause drowsiness, and the sleepy effects of the medication can last for quite a while. In fact, most antihistamines warn that drowsiness or impaired functioning may continue up to eight hours after initially taking the medication. Decongestants cause patients to feel the opposite, too much energy/Insomnia. Cough medicines that contain alcohol can be extremely dangerous for people with Sleep Apnea. Alcohol prevents the body from going into deep REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement); when REM is not entered, the sleeper is likely to wake up numerous times throughout the night.
    • Herbal Supplements: Some herbal supplements can interfere with sleep. Many people suffering from depression have reported feeling over stimulated after ingesting St. John’s Wort to combat depression symptoms. The excess stimulation prevents falling asleep and staying asleep easily. Ginseng is a Chinese herb commonly used in energy drinks and can add to Sleep Apnea problems.
    • Painkillers: A large portion of over-the-counter medications contain significant portions of caffeine. Most pain-relievers that contain caffeine are meant to treat severe pain; Excedrin, Motrin Complete, and Anacin all contain significant amounts of caffeine that, if ingested, may cause over-stimulation in the brain resulting in Insomnia. Make sure that you take the time to fully read the label on painkillers before you buy them; not all pain killers contain caffeine.

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