Statins side effects: Drug can cause sleep disturbances including insomnia and nightmares

Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes

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Statin therapy is the cornerstone for primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular diseases and is generally safe and well tolerated. Most adverse effects associated with these drugs are muscle symptoms and gastrointestinal symptoms.

In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, sleep changes from statin therapy were further investigated. 

The study noted: “Accumulating databases from the US Food and Drug Administration Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) suggest that statin use is associated with an increased risk of sleep disturbances including insomnia.

“In other studies hallucinations and nightmares during statin therapy were also observed.

“There are few clinical trials evaluating the effect of statins on sleep as a primary outcome.

“Three of them suggested an essential effect of statins on sleep quality, while two others presented no impact of statin treatment on sleep.”

In another study published in Science Daily, cholesterol-lowering drug linked to sleep disruptions was analysed.

In this study, researchers tested 1,016 healthy adult men and women for six months in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using simvastatin, given at 20 milligrams (mg), pravastatin at 40 mg, or a placebo.

Researchers assessed outcomes with the Leeds sleep scale, a visual analogue scale of sleep quality, and a rating scale of sleep problems. Both scales were measured before and during treatment.

Doctor Beatrice Golomb, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine and family and preventive medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine said of the findings: “The results showed that simvastain use was associated with significantly worse sleep quality.

“A significantly greater number of individuals taking simvastatin reported sleep problems than those taking either pravastain or the placebo.

“Patients taking simvastatin who are having sleep problems should consult with their doctor,” Dr Golomb said.

“Sleep deprivation is a major problem in a minor number of people.”

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Researchers have found that fat-soluble statins including Lipitor, Mevacor, Vytorin and Zocor are more likely to cause insomnia or nightmares.

This is because they can easily penetrate cell membranes and make their way across the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from chemicals in the blood.

The brain controls sleep, and many of the brain’s nerve cells are wrapped in a fatty insulating sheath called myelin.

Professor Peter Sever from Imperial College London said: “More detailed studies of sleep duration and quality show that statins reduced the number of times people woke and the time they spent awake during the night, compared with a placebo.

“This comes from a review of five studies published in Archives of Medical Science in 2015.

“The studies looked at three different statins: pravastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin.

“Another Lancet study from 2018, in which I was also involved, of 10,000 patients taking a statin (atorvastatin) or placebo, showed significantly less sleep disturbance in those taking the statin.”

Statins can be effective in getting your cholesterol under control, but they come with risks. Some common side effects include muscle and joint aches, nausea, and headache.

Serious risks include damage to your muscles, kidneys, and liver. If you have type 2 diabetes, statins may increase your blood sugar levels.

If you experience side effects, it’s important that you tell your doctor. Sometimes, switching to another statin can help.

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