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Is Remeron (Mirtazapine) an Effective Sleep Aid?

The key to achieving quality, restorative sleep has evaded humans for centuries. That’s one reason why there are so many sleep aids and medications on the market promising to help you fall asleep faster and wake less often. Millions of people struggle with insomnia, a condition that makes it difficult to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. While there’s no one specific cause of insomnia, most cases are directly related to a separate underlying health condition. By treating this underlying condition, you may be able to ease insomnia symptoms as well.

Remeron, the brand name for a medication known as mirtazapine, is used to treat depression but may offer benefits for insomnia suffers as well. Here we’ll discuss how mirtazapine works, its prescribed uses, and if it’s a viable option for treating certain sleep disorders.

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What is Mirtazapine and How Does It Work?

Mirtazapine is better known by its brand name, Remeron. Used as an antidepressant, Remeron boosts the chemicals in your brain that control mood, including norepinephrine and serotonin. By doing so, it increases feelings of happiness and relaxation. This is one reason why mirtazapine sometimes doubles as a sleep aid. Similar to other antidepressants that may also treat insomnia, it’s unclear if Remeron actually eases insomnia symptoms or that reducing depressive symptoms helps patients sleep better.

All antidepressants work by increasing the number of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain. The difference is that most antidepressants work by stopping the body’s recycling of neurotransmitters, whereas mirtazapine blocks some of the receptors that these chemicals interact with.

This drug was first developed by a Dutch pharmaceutical company and approved to treat depressive disorders in 1994. It was then introduced in the United States in 1996 and given the name Remeron. It’s now available in several generic versions. The typical dosage of mirtazapine is one 15 mg tablet per day — normally in the evening. Some patients require more than one dose but no more than 45 mg is recommended.

While some antidepressants take several hours to kick in, most people feel the effects of mirtazapine almost immediately. This medication is normally taken over an extended period of time with the full benefits taking hold after 4 to 6 weeks.

Side Effects of Mirtazapine

The side effects of this antidepressant are often mild with the most common being drowsiness. This is one reason why some people turn to Remeron to help treat sleep disorders. In addition, depression and anxiety are the leading causes of insomnia. By treating the depression, it may in-turn help treat your insomnia.

While drowsiness is a common side effect of mirtazapine, it’s not the only one. Here are a few other things you may experience when taking this antidepressant.

  • Dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Weight gain/increased appetite
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth

To prevent serious side effects, be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications you’re currently taking.

Mirtazapine and Sleep

Mirtazapine doesn’t just ease the main symptoms of depression including mood swings, irritability, hopelessness, and lack of concentration. It may also help combat sleep disturbances including restlessness, waking too early, insomnia, and, in some cases, excessive sleepiness.

Studies show that mirtazapine can reduce the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep and also reduce the duration of lighter stages of sleep. It may even increase the number of deep sleep episodes you have. This medication may also reduce REM sleep slightly, which can prevent waking up frequently throughout the night, improving overall quality and continuity of sleep.

Most patients who benefit from taking mirtazapine are diagnosed with a depressive disorder and are battling insomnia as an unpleasant side effect of their mental health condition. Research is still being done on patients using mirtazapine to treat insomnia without a pre-existing mental health condition like anxiety or depression. Some studies suggest that low-dose mirtazapine is the best form of insomnia treatment.

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Mirtazapine Warnings

Mirtazapine is a viable drug option for patients battling both depression and insomnia. Research is ongoing as to whether or not this antidepressant is effective as a sleep aid on its own. Taking mirtazapine isn’t without its drawbacks and may even aggravate certain sleep problems in some people. Evidence suggests that mirtazapine may increase the number of RLS episodes (restless leg syndrome) and restlessness.

Weight gain is another common and unpleasant side effect of this antidepressant. By slowing down your metabolism and increasing food cravings, many patients experience increased weight which can have other adverse effects. Some people end up with worsening depressive symptoms and find themselves at greater risk of developing sleep apnea, especially in men.

The sedating effects of mirtazapine are what help treat insomnia but may also cause daytime drowsiness and impact your ability to focus. Some people experience grogginess and report feeling hungover the day after taking mirtazapine. Following the prescribed dosage can help reduce these effects.

Alternative Methods for Treating Depression and Insomnia

Oftentimes, depression or anxiety and insomnia go hand-in-hand with one either causing or aggravating the other. Depressed individuals find it difficult to sleep and the inability to sleep can heighten a person’s anxiety. While medications can help treat both these conditions, there are other ways to combat and overcome both depression and insomnia including the following lifestyle changes.

Establishing a Healthy Nighttime Routine

Most people with depression or anxiety thrive on routine and predictability. By knowing what’s to come, you can quell anxious thoughts and feelings. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can also help treat insomnia by supporting a healthy circadian rhythm. This is your body’s internal sleep-wake cycle. Try going to bed each night at the same time and waking up at the same time every morning. Doing so will train your brain and body to get into a healthy routine for sleep. 

Another way to establish consistency is by performing the same, relaxing nighttime rituals every night. This will not only ease your stress but prepare you for sleep. Writing your feelings in a journal or practicing meditation are two great options for purging negative thoughts and entering a state of calm and relaxation. You can also try drinking chamomile tea, taking a hot soothing bath, or utilizing essential oils and natural supplements like melatonin.

Reducing Daytime Stress

Daytime stress often overflows into the night. In fact, anxiety and depression symptoms are often worse at night, when your mind and body are finally at rest. Sadly, this can intensify insomnia symptoms as well. By adopting stress-reducing activities during the day, you may effectively combat major depression symptoms and sleep better at night. 

Exercising is a great way to not only reduce stress but boost your confidence and self-awareness. Exercising during the day also makes it easier to fall asleep at night. Outdoor activities offer the added benefit of vitamin D which is essential for immune and heart health. Yoga and pilates are great for flexibility, muscle strength, and breathing. Controlled breathing is essential for reducing anxiety. They also play a key role in meditation and mindfulness, which can also help depressed individuals find inner peace and better sleep.

Eliminate Unhealthy Behaviors

This is a beneficial tip for all aspects of life but especially if you struggle with depression and/or insomnia. All too often people try to self-medicate using alcohol or illicit drugs. Not only is this dangerous and, in some cases, illegal, but it can actually worsen your symptoms. While alcohol does make you drowsy at first and may help you fall asleep, the effects will slowly wear off and you’ll be left feeling restless and anxious. Excess alcohol abuse may also increase your depression, causing you to feel even more hopeless than before.

Eliminating negative and unhealthy behaviors including alcohol and drug use, as well as smoking cigarettes, is the first step toward adopting a healthier lifestyle that includes less stress and better sleep.

Treating Depression and Insomnia Together

The best defense against both these conditions is a well-prepared offense. You can’t predict or prevent depression, and unfortunately, insomnia often comes with the territory. The good news is, there are countless medications available that may help treat both conditions simultaneously. You also have the power to make certain lifestyle choices to support your recovery and success.

Somnus Therapy is dedicated to helping you address and overcome your sleep troubles. Through a combination of therapies, mindfulness, and professional expertise, you’ll learn to control your negative thoughts and feelings and adopt a new, healthier way of life.

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