Can medication cause sleep apnea?

About 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is interrupted during sleep. These breathing interruptions occur because the upper airway is blocked or the brain fails to properly send signals to the breathing muscles.

While factors such as obesity and age may play a role in the development of sleep apnea, the use of over-the-counter drugs such as benadrine and certain prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines may lead to risky or worsening conditions. These drugs can affect sleep structure, muscle tone, and breathing, and cause sleep apnea.

Medications that cause sleep apnea

over the counter


Antihistamines are a class of drugs commonly used to treat allergy symptoms. Our immune system produces chemicals called histamines to help clear foreign invaders from entering the body.

While histamine production is great for keeping the body safe, it can sometimes be released when normally harmless substances or allergens enter the body, causing bothersome symptoms. This is where antihistamines can reduce this effect. Some common antihistamines include:

  • Diphenhydramine (benadryl)
  • Loratadine (Clatine)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)

While antihistamines can help treat allergy symptoms, they are also sometimes used as sleep aids. These drugs affect histamine receptors to help you stay awake. Taking antihistamines can cause drowsiness and relax the muscles of breathing, which may worsen untreated sleep apnea or increase your chances of developing sleep apnea if you are at risk.

Antihistamines can also cause weight gain, This can lead to obesity, a significant risk factor for sleep apnea.



Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used to relieve anxiety. Some are used as muscle relaxants or as anticonvulsants to treat seizures. Because these drugs can also cause drowsiness, they are sometimes used for a short period of time to help with sleep. However, long-term use for this purpose is discouraged due to its high risk of dependence. Some benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • chlordiazepoxide
  • clonazepam (KIonopin)
  • Clozapine
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Quazepam
  • midazolam
  • Estazolam
  • Flurazepam
  • temazepam (Restoril)
  • triazolam

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a chemical in the body that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, blocking nerve signals, especially those that cause feelings such as anxiety and fear. Benzodiazepines act by stimulating GABA receptors, causing sedation, anxiety reduction, muscle relaxation, and retrograde amnesia.

Because of their muscle-relaxing and neurological effects and high risk of dependence, benzodiazepines have been largely replaced by safer drug classes such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs do not increase the risk of breathing disorders that can cause or worsen sleep apnea as benzodiazepines do.


Opioids (sometimes called opioids or narcotics) are a class of medicines commonly used to treat pain and sometimes diarrhea or cough. Because opioids can cause drowsiness as a side effect, they can have an important effect on breathing during sleep. Some common opioids include:

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  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl
  • pethidine
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • Sufentanil
  • codeine
  • propoxyphene
  • Buprenorphine
  • pentazocine

These opioids bind to various opioid receptors in the nervous system and other parts of the body, causing increased apnea, irregular breathing, and shallow breathing. Research suggests that the effects of opioids may contribute to central sleep apnea.


Barbiturates are a class of drugs formerly used for sedation. But they have largely been phased out as sleep aids due to serious side effects, including the risk of dependence, withdrawal and coma. Some barbiturates include:

  • Amobarbital
  • Phenobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Secobarbital
  • Sodium Thiopental

Barbiturates act on sodium and potassium transporters in cells, inhibiting the reticular activation system in the brainstem—a system responsible for regulating sleep-wake transitions. This produces sedation or even a coma, and has a dramatic effect on breathing.

Anxiety Medications and Opioids Can Affect Breathing During Sleep

Anxiety medications and opioids can suppress your breathing and make it easier for your upper airway to collapse. This can worsen sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea. Because these drugs also suppress your level of consciousness, you may not be able to adequately protect your airways, which can lead to interrupted breathing, suffocation or suffocation, and even death.

Anxiety drugs are frequently linked to overdose deaths, including among celebrities.

Finally, these drugs may affect your sleep structure differently, causing sleep disruption even if you’re still in a coma.

If you have sleep apnea, you should have a polysomnography (PSG) while using any of these medications to monitor side effects. It is important to discuss these risks with your healthcare provider to determine if the benefits of the drug outweigh the harm that your condition may cause.

Sleep Aids and Sleep Apnea Patients

Many people have trouble falling asleep and rely on sleep aids to get good quality sleep. These types of drugs are either prescription or over-the-counter. As mentioned earlier, sleep aids such as antihistamines can cause drowsiness and muscle relaxation and may make untreated sleep apnea worse, or make you more likely to develop the condition if you are at risk .

Before taking a sleep aid, it’s important to know if you have or are at risk for sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea or improving the factors that put you at risk may improve sleep quality and suppress the need for sleep aids.

If you have sleep apnea and are still having trouble falling or staying asleep with the treatment you’re receiving, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss different and emerging treatments and medications that may help.

For example, published in European Respiratory Journal Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia was found to reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in patients with the disorder.

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Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

The calming properties of alcohol have led many people to use it as a form of self-medication because they feel it helps them relax and fall asleep. However, research shows that drinking alcohol before bed can negatively affect your natural sleep cycle.

After drinking, especially in large quantities, the substance will be absorbed into the bloodstream and have effects on the body and nerves, resulting in increased blood pressure changes, Slow response, mood swings.

Drinking alcohol before bed can disrupt sleep quality because the liver metabolizes it slowly during the night, which means the substance is still circulating in the body, increasing the chance of sleep disruption.

Additionally, studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of sleep apnea by 25%. The sedative properties of alcohol relax the muscles of the airway, which may increase the chance of developing OSA or worsening the condition. It’s generally best to avoid alcohol at least four hours before bedtime to ensure it doesn’t interfere with sleep quality.

Discover the consequences of mixing alcohol and sleep apnea

Coping with anxiety and sleep stress

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, and in some cases it can actually be beneficial. However, when this reaction becomes excessive or somewhat exaggerated, it can greatly affect a person’s well-being.

Research has shown a link between anxiety and lack of proper sleep. A state of mental hyperactivity, often caused by worry, may be a key risk factor for insomnia.

Anxiety can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, and sleep deprivation can negatively impact mood as well as physical and mental health. Those who don’t get enough sleep may even begin to feel fearful and anxious about falling asleep or staying asleep — a form of anxiety known as sleep anxiety.

If your anxiety disorder is causing you insomnia and affecting your health, seeking help from a mental health professional should be your first course of action. They can help identify what may be causing your anxiety and provide you with appropriate treatment that may help. Additionally, there are a few things you can do to help you cope better with anxiety and sleep stress:

  • Improve sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to the behaviors and habits you practice before bed that affect the way you sleep. Turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime, avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bedtime, creating a relaxing and comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding large meals before bedtime are all examples of good sleep habits that can improve sleep quality.
  • Redirect your attention: If you deal with anxiety, you may notice that you focus too much on the anxiety itself or the triggers that cause it. Activities such as writing, exercising, listening to music, or watching a funny TV show can distract you and may help reduce your anxiety.
  • Practice breathing techniques: Research shows that practicing deep breathing may trigger a body response that makes you relax.
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How to Treat Sleep Problems Caused by Anxiety


Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep. Certain medications, especially antihistamines, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and opioids, can affect your natural sleep cycle and breathing, increasing your risk of sleep apnea, or if you Having sleep apnea can make the condition worse.

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If you have or are at risk for sleep apnea, thoroughly discuss any medication you wish to take with your doctor to make sure it doesn’t affect your sleep health. For many people with sleep apnea, standard treatments, such as the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines or oral appliances, have proven to be an effective way to get good quality sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if you have sleep apnea?

    It can be difficult to know if you have sleep apnea; a professional diagnosis is the surest way. However, common signs may include:

    • snoring loudly
    • gasping for breath while sleeping
    • constantly waking up from sleep
    • persistent tiredness during the day
  • Should people with sleep apnea take antidepressants?

    Research suggests a possible link between impaired breathing and nocturnal oxygen depletion and antidepressants, which may worsen sleep apnea. However, mirtazapine and trazodone are two antidepressants that research suggests may reduce the severity of sleep apnea.

    If a person with sleep apnea has depression, mirtazapine or trazodone are two possible antidepressants that may be appropriate if their doctor believes medication is needed. But more research is needed in this area to determine if and which antidepressants make sleep apnea worse.

  • How do you deal with anxiety without a prescription drug?

    There are strategies you can use to deal with anxiety that don’t involve drugs, such as practicing breathing techniques, engaging in fun activities, and writing down your thoughts.

    However, if you have an anxiety disorder, it is best to seek treatment from a mental health professional, as they can provide you with the best treatment options.

    understand more:

    How to Cope with Anxiety: How to Cope

  • What else makes sleep apnea worse?

    Some things that can make sleep apnea worse include:

    • weight gain
    • elderly
    • smokes
    • breathing condition

    understand more:

    Factors that make obstructive sleep apnea worse