Depression is a mental disorder characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness and despair. It can also cause many physical symptoms, including insomnia. Some antidepressant medications can help alleviate the symptoms of insomnia. However, while antidepressants are an effective insomnia treatment for some, they aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat insomnia, and may also cause sleep-related antidepressant side effects.
Sleep-Related Antidepressant Side Effects
In some people, insomnia is a symptom of depression. In these cases, taking antidepressants may help with the insomnia by treating its underlying cause. In addition, some antidepressants, such as trazodone, have sedating effects that can help relieve insomnia. However, antidepressants can cause side effects related to sleep, including night sweats, fatigue and drowsiness. In some cases, antidepressants can even interfere with sleep.
Particularly during REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, antidepressants can cause sleep disturbances. Normally during REM sleep, the body’s muscles are paralyzed to keep the sleeping person from physically acting out dreams. Research indicates, however, that antidepressants affect the brain transmitters that keep muscles immobile. Many people taking antidepressants find themselves moving around in their sleep. This phenomenon is known as REM behavior disorder, or RBD.
RBD is normally associated with age Ã‘ people 50 years of age and older often experience RBD, even without antidepressants. But the use of antidepressants has been linked to early-onset RBD in patients as young as 30 years old.
Antidepressant Sleep Aids
For some people, antidepressants are an effective treatment for insomnia. This may be because depression is the root cause of insomnia in many cases.
Some doctors may also feel more comfortable prescribing an antidepressant sleep aid than a traditional prescription sleep aid to treat insomnia. According to a 2004 study published in the journal Sleep, three of the four most commonly prescribed insomnia medications were antidepressants.
Antidepressants may be less habit-forming and cause fewer side effects than most prescription sleep aids. In addition, generic versions of common antidepressants are often cheaper than name-brand prescription sleep aids. However, the FDA has not yet approved antidepressants as insomnia treatment, and studies have not yet determined the long-term effectiveness for treating insomnia.
Some people with depression will still struggle with sleep problems, even while taking antidepressants. If this is the case for you, speak to your doctor about your symptoms. Making small lifestyle changes, like adopting a healthy diet and exercise program, may also help combat insomnia. Other small changes that may help with insomnia include:
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco in the evenings
- Creating bedtime routines
- Eating a light snack (but no heavy meals) before going to bed
- Following a regular sleep schedule
- Relaxing before bedtime.
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