What Happens To Your Sleep When You Stop Taking Antidepressants

If you're taking an antidepressant, you're not alone. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more than 10% of people in the United States were taking an antidepressant in 2018, and that was before COVID-19. Even in the United Kingdom, more and more people are taking antidepressants. The Pharmaceutical Journal said antidepressant use jumped by 35% between the years 2015/2016 and 2021/2022.

Eventually, you might find yourself feeling better and decide to stop taking antidepressants. Some people go off antidepressants because their medication isn't working well, or they don't like the side effects (per Psych Central). Whatever the reason you decide to stop taking your antidepressants, you'll need to discuss it with your doctor to prevent unwanted side effects. In particular, going off your antidepressants can have a significant impact on your sleep. How your sleep might be affected when you stop taking antidepressants depends on how the drug works on your body and its likelihood of withdrawal symptoms.

How antidepressants affect your sleep

One of the most common complaints in people with depression is problems with sleep, particularly staying asleep through the night. Waking up several times throughout the night can disrupt your slow-wave deep sleep and your REM sleep, stages of sleep critical for restoring your body and mind. Some antidepressants like doxepin and trazodone have a sedative effect to help you sleep through the night and get more deep sleep. Antidepressants like imipramine will have the opposite effect, disrupting your sleep continuity and your time in deep sleep. Others will delay the onset of your REM sleep, resulting in a reduced amount of REM sleep, according to a 2017 article in Current Psychiatry Reports. Stopping your antidepressant could cause your insomnia to return, depending on how it currently impacts the various stages of your sleep.

Some antidepressants might disrupt your sleep if you stop taking them because the withdrawal can disrupt your brain's equilibrium. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by increasing serotonin levels in your brain to regulate anxiety and mood. When you stop taking an SSRI, the serotonin levels are no longer balanced. It's also possible that norepinephrine and dopamine levels could get out of balance when you stop taking them. You could experience flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal distress, dizziness, or sensory symptoms like feelings of electric shock. You could also experience insomnia, particularly if you drank alcohol while taking an SSRI (per Ripple Ranch Recovery Center).

Some antidepressants are more likely to affect sleep when you stop taking them

When you stop taking an antidepressant, it still remains in your body for a certain amount of time. How long it takes a drug to reach half its concentration in your system is considered its half-life. An antidepressant with a shorter half-life could have more withdrawal symptoms than one with a longer half-life. Antidepressants like venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta) have a half-life of less than a day, but fluoxetine (Prozac) has a half-life of up to 144 hours. How long you took your antidepressant can also factor into your likelihood of experiencing sleep-related withdrawal from your antidepressant (per PsychCentral).

Rather than cutting off your antidepressants cold turkey, you might need to slowly wean your body off the medications for at least four weeks. Your doctor might prescribe a medication to address possible withdrawal symptoms, so it's important to check in regularly with them. Even taking a different antidepressant could help alleviate discontinuation symptoms. Undergoing cognitive therapy while you are going through withdrawal symptoms could also help with managing any possibilities of a depression relapse. A healthy diet and exercise can help you transition off your antidepressants as well (per Medical News Today).