ME/CFS & Sleep Medications

There are a variety of sleep medications that can be used to treat the sleeping disorders that are commonly seen in ME/CFS. Most of these sleep aids aren’t meant to be used long term but may be worth discussing with your physician to see what may be appropriate for you. While trying new sleep medications may be a trial and error process for a while, treating sleep disorders is one of the primary therapeutic strategies for ME/CFS.


Melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement that can be purchased at any grocery or health food store. Melatonin is a hormone that tells the brain when it’s time to go to sleep. Some people with ME/CFS, particularly those with circadian rhythm problems, state that melatonin is helpful, but its effects have never been validated by independent studies.

Ambien & Sonata

Ambien and Sonata are in a class of drugs known as nonbenzodiazepines. These are prescription medications that work by attaching to receptors on brain cells that trigger sleepiness. Risks with using these medications may include addiction or dependency and suppressed REM sleep.

Elavil, Doxepin, & Trazadone

These prescription medications are antidepressants that help balance brain chemicals to treat depression. When used for sleep, they usually work best at lower doses than what’s typically prescribed for treating depression. These medications can cause drowsiness the next day and can reduce REM sleep.

The type of sleep disturbance and the other primary symptoms of ME/CFS may determine the right sleep aid to explore with your physician. For sleep onset insomnia, short-acting agents such as Sonata might be effective. For sleep maintenance insomnia, Ambien or one of the benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Restoril, or Halcion) may be worth trying.

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