Sleep issues are often at the root of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. In many cases, improving sleep can improve other problems you face as well. Trazadone is a medication that’s used to treat sleep disorders. 

Trazodone is a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) that was once used to treat depression, but it caused a significant side effect. Trazodone caused people to become drowsy, struggling to get through daily tasks because they were so tired. Because of this, doctors began to use the side effect to treat sleep issues like insomnia. Since sleep issues are such a common issue in the United States, affecting as much as a third of Americans, doctors and clinicians are often pleased to find new ways to address this issue. 

Trazodone has been found to be effective in helping people get to sleep and stay asleep often. In many cases, those are two different issues, and some drugs may help you fall asleep without maintaining a restful eight hours. Some people with sleep disorders have no trouble getting to sleep but wake up frequently throughout the night. However, as with all sleep medications, it’s best to use the drug for short-term therapeutic use and then taper off the drug to get to achieve sleep on your own.

How Is Trazodone Used?

Trazodone is taken 30 minutes to an hour before going to sleep, taking 25 mg to 100 mg (milligrams). In some cases of chronic and recurring insomnia that are resistant to medications, your doctor may prescribe higher doses. Trazodone has been shown to be an effective sleep aid for many people, although it’s not the ideal sleep aid for every person. Trazodone can cause some side effects that generally range from mild to moderate. However, some rare side effects may be more severe. 

Many traditional sleep aids and sedative-hypnotic drugs are more dangerous to use as you age. People over 65 might have trouble processing drugs like benzodiazepines, which causes them to encounter more severe side effects like daytime drowsiness that can cause dangerous falls or accidents. Trazodone may be safer for older people to use, so it may be a better choice for older people with sleep issues. It may also be a better option for people with sleep apnea. 

Is Trazodone Addictive?

Traditional sleep aids can include drugs like benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics. These medications interact with GABA, a chemical in the brain that’s tied to rest and sleep. They’re also in a class of substances called central nervous system depressants, and they work in the brain in a way that’s similar to alcohol. Depressant sedatives are known to cause tolerance, dependence, and addiction if they’re used for too long or misused. 

SNRIs like trazodone are much less likely to lead to substance use disorders. However, like many prescription sleep aids, using it for too long too consistently can cause you to rely on the medication to facilitate sleep. Without it, you may experience sleep problems again. Trazodone is unlikely to cause addiction, which means you won’t experience cravings and compulsions to use the drug when you want to cut back or quit. However, you may become dependent on trazodone, which means you might experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you cut back or quit. 

Trazodone Withdrawal Symptoms

tapering off trazadone

Though trazodone is non-addictive, stopping after a period of regular use can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is caused by chemical dependence, which is when your brain and body adapt to the presence of a drug in your system. When you stop using serotonin, you might experience a phenomenon called rebounding. 

Rebounding occurs when drug withdrawal causes the opposite of what that drug was intended for. In trazodone’s cases, it can mean insomnia, restlessness, and sleep disturbances. Some people report unpleasant dreams when they do get to sleep. Trazodone can also be used to treat depression, which means you might experience low mood, depression, and lethargy when you stop taking it. 

Withdrawal can be unpleasant, and some people may continue to use the drug just to avoid these symptoms. Trazodone withdrawal symptoms may also be more unpleasant if you’ve used the drug consistently for a long time. You might experience more intense withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit using trazodone suddenly after a long period of frequent use. If you’ve used trazodone for a long time and you’d like to quit, it’s best to talk to your doctor first. 

But how do you know when you’re chemically dependent? 

Chemical dependence happens after a period of consistently using trazodone. It may also happen after a period of taking high doses of the drug. You may be able to avoid dependence by taking “drug vacations,” which is when you take a few days off the medication before returning to it. 

This may also help you avoid issues like tolerance, which is when you need more of the drug to achieve the same effects over time. Tolerance is a sign that you may have become chemically dependent. Another telltale sign is uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you miss a dose, try to cut back, or stop using trazodone. 

Other signs include needing to use the drug more often, insomnia when you skip a night, mood changes, trying and failing to cut back, and using just to avoid uncomfortable symptoms. 

The symptoms of trazodone withdrawal can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia 
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability 
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chest tightness
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you experience serious symptoms like severe depression or suicidal thoughts, speak to a doctor as soon as possible. It’s important to note that these symptoms are usually temporary and a sign that you have a chemical imbalance caused by chemical dependence. As your brain readjusts to life without the drug, many of these severe symptoms will fade. 

How Is Trazodone Dependence Treated?

If you’ve become dependent on trazodone, speak to your doctor before quitting cold turkey. Abruptly stopping after a period of dependence may cause more intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor may be able to help you taper off trazodone gradually. A slow taper, usually over a period of four weeks, can help you avoid some of the most uncomfortable side effects. Tapering on your own can be risky. Taking too little can cause withdrawal symptoms, and taking too much will be ineffective.

Getting to Sleep Without Trazodone

When you stop using trazodone, you may continue to experience sleep issues. If you’d like to sleep without the use of medications, or if you want to learn techniques to improve your sleep quality while on a medication, there are a few tips that can help. Techniques that are used to achieve better quality sleep are called sleep hygiene. Many sleep hygiene tips involve ways you can prepare your mind and body for bed. One of the most important factors in sleep hygiene is keeping a consistent sleep routine. When you go to bed, you’re hoping your brain will trigger the chemical responses necessary to allow you to fall asleep. 

For most people, simply turning off the lights and getting into bed is enough to start your body’s rest and sleep response. However, other people find it difficult to stop their minds from racing and keeping them awake. In this case, a wind-down routine can give your brain more sights and sounds to associate with bedtime. 

For instance, if you work all day and then shut off the computer to immediately go to sleep, you may find it difficult to stop thinking about work when your head hits the pillow. If you scroll on your phone or watch a movie in bed, your brain may continue to seek that stimulation for a while after you’ve decided it’s time to sleep. 

To develop a better routine, try to keep a consistent schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Decrease your stimulation as you get closer to bedtime. Instead of working, playing video games, or watching movies, which involve sights, sounds, and screens, try quieter activities like reading a book. If you have a nighttime routine that includes brushing your teeth, changing into pajamas, and other common before-bed activities, do them every night consistently. 

About an hour before bedtime, turn off screens. Computer, tablet, phone, and TV screens can be very stimulating because they’re designed to be. Screens and the media on them can trigger excitement, alertness, and creative thinking, which can prevent the calmness and relaxation necessary for sleep. In terms of content, avoid stressful media like horror movies, the news, or certain social media feeds. Instead, opt for relaxing things like nature documentaries or comedies. 

You should also avoid big meals before going to bed. A large meal may make you feel sluggish, but it also makes your body go to work processing the food. This can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, which are physical responses that are often tied to alertness. Certain drinks like caffeine may interfere with your sleep schedule. 

Coffee may keep you awake for hours after you drink, but it may disrupt sleep patterns in some people for much longer. If you have sleep issues, try cutting out caffeine for a few days to see how it affects you. It may take up to four days to reset your body after stopping caffeine, but many people report feeling more rested and energized throughout the day and able to sleep at night after cutting back on caffeine. 

Alcohol can also disrupt sleep. Even though it’s a depressant that makes you feel sleepy, it can also interrupt your sleep cycle and cause you to have a less restful sleep.

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