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Sleep Apnea Medications

What are the different types of sleep apnea medicines?

Doctors generally do not recommend medications as the primary treatment for sleep apnea. However, some drugs can help patients manage symptoms of sleep apnea including daytime sleepiness, or difficulty sleeping. Medications include wakefulness-promoting drugs to help patients with daytime sleepiness such as Provigil (modafinil) and Nuvigil (armodafinil). Other medications to treat sleep apnea aid in sleep, including benzodiazepines such as Halcion (triazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Valium (diazepam); barbiturates such as Seconal Sodium (secobarbital sodium); nonbenzodiazapine hypnotics including Edluar (zolpidem tartrate) and Ambien (zolpidem tartrate), sedatives such as Xyrem (sodium oxybate), and melatonin receptor agonists such as Hetlioz (tasimelteon).

Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids should be used only on the advice of a physician if you have sleep apnea. These include Sominex, Nytol (diphenhydramine), and Unisom (doxylamine). In some cases, OTC nasal decongestants such as Afrin (oxymetazoline), Neo-Synephrine (phenylephrine), and Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) may be used to treat mild cases of snoring associated with sleep apnea.

What are common side effects of sleep apnea medications?

Side effects of sleep apnea medicines vary depending on the type of medication. Wakefulness-promoting medications can cause headache, upper respiratory tract infection, nausea, nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia.

Benzodiazepines, barbiturates, hypnotics, and sedatives have similar side effects including drowsiness and dizziness. Other side effects may include stomach upset, headache, weakness, grogginess, dreaming, and mood or behavior changes.

Side effects of nasal decongestants include nervousness, restlessness, or difficulty sleeping.

Where can people find more information about side effects of OTC and prescription sleep apnea drugs?

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Always consult your doctor if you are having unexplained symptoms or questions related to your medications. For more information about side effects of sleep apnea medications, search for the drug and click on the drug's "Side Effects Center" on the top left side of the page.

References
FDA Prescribing Information.

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