Can Prescription Drugs Exacerbate Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

Categories: Sleep Disorders

prescription drugsSanta Cruz, Scotts Valley CA

Prescription drugs are sometimes necessary to manage health conditions, but, unfortunately, they can aggravate symptoms of sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. The pauses can occur multiple times per hour, interrupting sleep patterns and restricting oxygen that the brain and body need. This can lead to an increased risk of severe health issues. Various factors contribute to sleep apnea — including obesity, anatomical factors and lifestyle choices — but prescription drugs can also play a significant role in aggravating the condition. Today our sleep apnea dentist in Santa Cruz is sharing a list of common drugs known to exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms.

Muscle relaxants

Sleep apnea is caused when the muscles in the throat relax and create an obstruction or cause the airway to collapse during sleep. Muscle relaxers relax muscles throughout the body to alleviate muscle spasms and stiffness associated with various medical conditions. This can contribute even further to collapsing a person’s airway during sleep if s/he suffers from sleep apnea.


Some antidepressant medications — particularly those that increase serotonin levels — may interfere with sleep and exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms. Some antidepressants can also cause weight gain, which is the primary risk factor for a person to develop sleep apnea.


Opioid medications are commonly prescribed for pain management. They can decrease the drive to breathe and suppress respiratory function, which can lead to more frequent and prolonged breathing interruptions during sleep.


Over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines are commonly used to manage allergies and cold symptoms, but these medications have sedative effects and can relax the muscles in the throat, potentially worsening the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

Sedatives and hypnotics

Drugs like benzodiazepines, barbiturates and certain sleep aids are central nervous system depressants. While they can help induce sleep, they also relax the muscles, including those in the throat. This muscle relaxation may lead to increased episodes of breathing pauses or shallow breathing during sleep, particularly in individuals with sleep apnea.

Antiepileptic drugs

Antiepileptic medications are prescribed to control seizures in individuals with epilepsy. While they serve a crucial purpose in managing neurological conditions, some antiepileptic drugs can interfere with sleep architecture and respiratory function, possibly exacerbating sleep apnea.

Hormone therapies

Hormonal medications, such as testosterone replacement therapy or certain hormone-based contraceptives, can affect sleep patterns and respiratory function. Changes in hormone levels may contribute to weight gain or fluid retention, both of which can worsen sleep apnea symptoms.


Be sure to talk with our dentist at Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry about any medications you’re on before we develop your customized sleep apnea treatment plan. We can work with your healthcare provider to monitor and adjust medications as needed to optimize your overall health and sleep quality. if you have any questions, contact our office at (831) 824-5111 or reach out to us online today.