Dear Pharmacist

My doctor is referring me to a psychologist because I’m having so many bad dreams. These are new for me, and while I believe that dreams are “telling” I can’t help but wonder if it’s something I’m taking. In the last 6 months, I’ve began taking three new prescriptions. Could my drugs have any bearing on my sleep or dream state?

--T.H., Denver, Colorado

Answer: Yes, medications can definitely impact the way you sleep, and cause vivid dreaming, lucidness, and even nightmares. There are over 130 medications that can cause nightmares and I’ve posted the list at my website, www.SuzyCohen.com because I don’t have the room to do so here. I’ll mention a few of those drugs shortly, but for the moment, let’s talk about nightmares. It’s normal to have them on occasion, but not all the time. I believe that dreams are a way for our unconscious mind to get our attention about a life situation, one that is particularly troubling. They are frightening and often contain emotional content or vivid details that stick with you throughout the day, if not forever. Nightmares are fairly common in children, but they are not usually associated with any underlying psychological problems. About 5 to 8 percent of the adult population, mostly women, have to deal with recurring nightmares. Just FYI, nightmares are considered one of the hallmark symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many war veterans and child abuse survivors can attest to this.

But as I said earlier, medications can trigger nightmares too. Below is a list of some of the most popular drugs or dietary supplements I can think of, that have the potential to affect dreaming. If you see your medication on the list, and nightmares have become troublesome for you, then speak to your doctor about lowering your dose a little bit, switching medication categories, or trying something natural.

  • Albuterol- a popular inhaler used for asthma or bronchospasm
  • Alprazolam and diazepam- these medications are used for relaxation or sleep
  • Amitriptyline and doxepin- two older antidepressants
  • Statins- a class of medications used to reduce cholesterol
  • Bisoprolol- a blood pressure drug
  • Carbidopa/levodopa- used in Parkinson’s disease
  • Cetirizine- an antihistamine
  • Citalopram and Escitalopram- two newer popular antidepressant
  • Fenfluramine- an appetite suppressant used for weight loss
  • HCTZ (Hydrochlorothiazide)- a popular diuretic used to reduce blood pressure
  • Levofloxacin- An antibiotic
  • Melatonin- a natural sleep aid, but excessive amounts can cause nightmares
  • Mugwort- a natural herb sometimes used to expand consciousness and dream states, as well as for digestive health
  • Propranolol- used for high blood pressure, migraines and heartbeat irregularities
  • Zanamivir- inhaled drug used for Influenza
  • Zolpidem- popular sleep medication

Did You Know?

Researchers just learned that when you get a sunburn, a pain-causing protein called CXCL5 goes way up. Taking an aspirin helps relieve sunburn pain.