woman screaming from a nightmare

If you have ever been awakened by a frightening dream, you know the feeling of terror it can produce. Once you are fully awake, you may feel relieved that your nightmare wasn’t real. On the other hand, the pounding heart and scary images may keep you awake for hours.

No one knows why some people have frequent bad dreams. Anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome (RLS) have all been blamed.

One factor that is often overlooked is medication. A surprising number of drugs can trigger nightmares. People susceptible to this side effect can lose sleep because of their prescriptions.

Unfortunately, this complication is not always mentioned. Doctors often think of bad dreams as relatively unimportant, because they are not life threatening. Pharmacists may also fail to mention this possible reaction when dispensing a new medicine. But for victims, drug-induced dreams can be a nightmare.

One reader said:

“I was put on atenolol when my blood pressure went through the roof. All hell broke loose. It made caused horrible nightmares and insomnia.”

Another reader reported:

“My husband has Parkinson’s disease and is taking levodopa. He often tells me stories that are so far fetched that I conclude he is telling me about his dreams. Yesterday he told me that he was on top of a very tall pole and could not get down.”

According to someone else:

“I took clonidine at night for several years to help with both blood pressure and hot flashes. The nightmares didn’t start right away but after they did, they became progressively more frequent until they were occurring about once every week or so. I was almost afraid to go to bed anymore not knowing if I’d wake up in a panic from another nightmare. They stopped once I quit taking the drug.”

Another reader had a reaction to Chantix:

“I started Chantix after many unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking over the last year or so. I took the first pill in the evening and that night I had the most vivid, colorful, interactive dreams I could ever remember. When I got up the next morning I commented to my partner that this drug was great and quitting smoking will be fun and the dreams would be a great reward.

“By night three the dreams had turned into nightmares from which I awoke angry and agitated. I awoke the morning of the fourth day after another nightmare. My partner was snoring, which agitated me to the point where I thought a bullet would certainly solve this problem. The shock of such a thought, so far removed from my normal feelings, scared me.

Chantix is notorious for causing very bad dreams. Other medications that may trigger nightmares include antibiotics (such as Avelox, Biaxin, Cipro and Levaquin), antidepressants (like Cymbalta, Effexor, Lexapro and Paxil), beta blockers (atenolol, bisoprolol, labetalol, metoprolol and propranolol) and levodopa for Parkinson’s, among others.

Nightmares are not necessarily a minor side effect. Although you should not stop a medicine suddenly, if bad dreams are keeping you awake please discuss this reaction with your doctor.

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  1. Cheryl
    San diego

    I have begun taking iron supplements twice a day and have noticed an increase in bad dreams. I researched this to see if anyone else experienced the same thing.

  2. Lisa

    I occasionally have nightmares and am not taking any medications. There are other causes that I am looking into such as not enough exercise, sleep apnia, what I eat before bed, caffeine and alcohol consumption which I don’t consume much of, and anxiety. I wake up terrified, in my dreams I feel out of control of the situation and nobody will listen.

    I just dreamed people came to my house with a bunch of kids who tore up the house and I caught one kid chocking my small child (my kids are grown). Usually these occur when I am having trouble sleeping and wake up a lot during the night. I am going to consult my doctor.

  3. Brenda

    I have nightmares every time I go to sleep. Even if it is only 2 minutes. ALWAYS! I would give anything to know what is causing it. I have been very ill for many years and take many medications. I have researched them all and tried so hard to find out what the problem is to no avail. God, HELP ME PLEASE! BECAUSE NOTHING ELSE WILL !

  4. marty

    I am taking 3 blood pressurre meds and atorastatin cholesterol meds and I’m having many vivid dreams. Some are anxiety dreams like I’m in Europe and have to fly home in a very small plane and I don’t want to because I’m scared. Then last night I dreamt I met and talked to this pretty lady who lives in my town and I have seen her Facebook profile and pics for a long time. That was a fun dream. So I don’t really mind the dreams. They are fascinating.

    I never remembered my dreams very much before and I don’t believe they mean anything that important or deep. They are usually just anxiety type ones. But now I’m enjoying them, and I remember them so well I’m thinking of keeping a journal on them. Any ideas comments or insights?

  5. Sheldon

    I take 5 different drugs daily (Lisinopil, Gabapentin, Glipizide, Atorvastatin, and Meloxicam, I have nightmares almost EVERY night. I dread going to bed at night, not knowing if I will have 1 or 4 nightmares. Any suggestions ? PS. I do not eat anything after dinner. Thanks,,,, Shel.

  6. krole

    My migraih brought ne to ER YESTERDAY and I thought it would never fo away. Didnt quite know what was causing this terribke headache so put me in amoxicillin for sinus infectiokn just in case. starting feeling a little bit better last night the migraine headache pain subsiding….I wake up this morning to what felt like a very real and vivid bad dream/nightmare it was awful. I haven’t been able to go back to bed since does anybody else have problems with this antibiotic anz nightmares?;

  7. Barbara
    United States

    I currently take Citalopram 40 mg for anxiety. Then I started having bad dreams every night that left me feeling exhausted and sleep deprived the next day. My doctor prescribed Zolpidem 10 mg which helps a lot. I ran out of Zolpidem and immediately started having the horrible dreams again. I met someone else that takes Citalopram and they reported bad dreams also. I’d be interested in knowing if any other Citalopram users experience bad dreams as a side effect.

    • stef
      rancho bernardp

      Yes I tried it …bad effects

    • Valerie T

      I’ve also been experencing unusual dreams while on Amoxcillion-thats why Im up now in the middle of the night researching about it. Glad to know its not just me…

  8. jyoti

    I have been taking hormonal medicine for last one month, and have come across many weird/scary dreams during that time.
    Please comment.

    • Lana

      I too am on hormones, but never thought about it causing me nightmares! I am also on anti drepressents! I have had my anxiety meds changed many times but has of lately I am having very, very bad nightmares that are so real I am afraid of what I might do! Thanks for your post I will definitely talk to my doc about this! Thank you so much!

  9. J.Erickson

    I have had medication treatment for high blood pressure for a long time. I saw Metopropol on the list of drugs that can cause bad dreams/nightmares. I will follow up with my doctor to see if I can be taken off of it.

  10. LS

    I take ambien at night to sleep and am also on a low dose of methadone. Neither of these together or separate have ever given me a problem (save for maybe gaining a few pounds due to late night munchies). Well a couple weeks ago I had a UTI and had to be put on antibiotics… I took them during the day as I was supposed to and the last one right before my ambien at night. I found I was having these weird episodes where I would sleep, have a nightmare, wake up slightly awake but almost as if I was still in the nightmare and in full on panic mode. It is terrifying. I stopped taking the antibiotic, this went away, but I never gave it another thought.
    Well cut to last night and I haven’t had any ambien in about a week and a half and I also had extensive dental work and got put on the same antibiotic… No problems with it… still taking my methadone as normal… not really sleeping but I chalked that up to the fact that I had all my upper teeth taken out. Well I get my ambien script last night, take it and my antibiotic and go to bed… two hours later and I’m thrashing around in a half asleep/half awake nightmare that’s leaving me short of breath and absolutely freaking out. I couldn’t collect my thoughts at all. I couldn’t even figure out what was happening. This went on ALL night long. I know the antibiotic combined with this is causing it.
    Tonight I’m going to take my ambien WITHOUT having had any antibiotics today and pray that this incident does not re-occur.
    The worst part is there is barely any information on this subject… no answers as to why or how to prevent it anywhere when it’s clearly something that’s an issue.
    Good luck to anyone else with the same problem.

    • HL

      My father in law is taking antibiotics in the hospital due to a catheter infection. He is having terrifying nightmares. I have asked the doctor and he wants to stay on the same antibiotic. I was going to suggest a sleep aide… Your right about their not being much information. Have you had any additional thoughts on this subject since you posted?

    • kristin
      grafton, wi, usa


      I know this was posted quite a while ago, but I would just like to comment in case anyone else has had this problem.

      I take a small dose of ambien (5mg) every night. My doctor had prescribed amoxicillin for an inner ear infection. I took the amoxicillin about an hour before I took the ambien.

      Obviously, 5mg is a low dose, so I never really feel “loopy” from it. Years ago, before the dosages for ambien were changed, I was on 15 mg, and I remember feeling kinda funny after taking it.

      The first night I took the amoxicillin and the 5mg ambien, I felt VERY weird. It felt as though I might have taken 30mg of ambien. I was hallucinating while watching t.v. before bed. I could barely walk to the bathroom.. i felt like I couldn’t even stand up straight.

      The next night I felt the same way. When I asked my doctor about it, he looked into it and told me that amoxicillin and ambien can react strangely together. I guess the amoxicillin can actually increase the effect that ambien has on your body. I have never known anyone else who has been on these meds together, so it’s interesting to hear someone else’s story.

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