Statins and Insomnia

A number of people report insomnia associated with the use of statins. Ordinarily this is not presented as a single complaint but as one of multiple other side effects.

As to mechanism, I note awareness of cognitive decline in several of these reports along with depressive manifestations and suspect impaired bio-availability of both cholesterol and dolichols. May I suggest that insomnia while on statins may well be a marker of more serious neurologic consequences to come.

The following are some personal experiences sent to me by readers identifying insomnia associated with statin use.

1.) Having rather high blood pressure and cholesterol readings, I had been put on Mevacor and Cozaar a couple of years ago and dutifully followed that regime. But a month ago just out of curiosity I read up on side effects, noted that each listed insomnia, and asked to have the dosages cut in half. My doctor said no but I was adamant, and then she said, stop taking them temporarily. I did so, and two days after quitting the drugs I started sleeping more soundly, and within a couple of weeks a few nagging worries about family and work, which had seemed overwhelming had simply evaporated -- an unexpected and very welcome benefit. Only now do I know what really good health feels like.

2.) I recently lost my brother in a bizarre suicide. He had been noted to be paranoid, dissociated, in the days preceding but nothing that was very noticeable. He had been complaining of insomnia, ringing in ears and muscle pain. He was a university professor in New York their youngest tenured professor. No other history except for mild elevated cholesterol for which he was on Lipitor. We suspect that Lipitor was somehow involved.

3.) I had feelings of depression, anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia while taking Zocor for five weeks. Since I stopped taking it all the above symptoms have disappeared.

4.) I was pleased to find your article about Vyotrin and its side effects, coupled with other statin drugs. I underwent emergency bypass surgery on Nov.1, 2000. I have always been in good physical condition, ate well etc. After my surgery I went on 10mg of Lipitor, then to 20, 40 and finally 60. The 60 lasted for only 4 months whereas I stepped down to 50mg. because of muscle soreness. Quite frankly I just didn't like the way I was feeling. Within the past month I went through a cardiolite stress test which I passed with flying colors, however after informing my cardiologist about the muscle pain insomnia etc, he recommended Vytorin "BECAUSE" the new standards is to have the bad cholesterol down to 70.

I ask you who makes these claims other than the drug companies or some Dr. that is a pill pusher in their back pocket? I believe that a majority of people in the world don't have levels of 70 or less, then why is it they are trying to medicate us to death for the purpose of achieving a number? After reading the side effects of Vytorin I have decided against the medication. I have been off statins for 48hrs, and notice the muscle fatigue is gone. I realize that I need to keep my cholesterol down. I am in a quandary as to how that should be managed. Perhaps a natural approach with blood test monitoring my levels and lower doses of Lipitor.

5.) I was really pleased to find your site!!! I have been struggling with the fogginess, dizziness and confusion cited in your info on Lipitor. I am in good health except for arthritis and high blood pressure. In addtion to elevated blood pressure, I had 4 occasions of hyperventilation and 2 ER visits. Asthmatic bronchitis or restrictive airway disease was the diagnosis. I'm getting better, but have been really ill for almost four months. Depressed and not being able to think straight or sleep have been additional problems.

I've been on Ambien for several years for sleep difficutlies. No one picked up on the Lipitor's role in my physical problems until today, when my Dr. finally said to discontinue it. I've had shakes and chills, and shaky vision in my left eye. I mention all of this stuff, because I think people on Lipitor are usually on other meds, and have physical problems that get blamed. In my case-arthritis for muscle aches as well as insomnia. I'm also going off the blood pressure meds. Ace inhibitors make me dizzy and cough, and Calcium channel blockers also dizzy and have headaches. Vision problems too. I feel like a mess.

Every drug makes me sicker!! At least I am now warned about the Lipitor, and know that I am not losing my mind. I had thoughts of ending it all and really couldn't think straight. Maybe its not all the Liptor, but I now know its a lot better not to take it. I'm hoping that the diet and exercise I'm doing do the trick for me this time. Perhaps all of the drugs were thwarting rather than helping me. We're hoping to find a good blood pressure medicine. Interesting though that 3ER docs, a primary care dr. and a neurologist NEVER mentioned Lipitor.(I've been on it for almost 2 yrs.)

6.) I was first put onto a statin drug by my internist back in the mid-1990s, supposedly to rectify what he deemed a bad balance between HDL and LDL, given that my father's side of my family had a history of relatively early death from heart disease. I now almost wish I hadn't known about that history of my father's family. I think the first impact the statins had was to increase my insulin resistance. I had been diagnosed as diabetic in 1987 but after losing over 40 pounds I was able to maintain normal blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, requiring no drugs.

But in 1997, I began to experience dizzyness after eating and my endocrinologist put me on precose to slow down sugar intake after eating, so as to control whatever was going on with my insulin metabolism. In 1998 after I changed doctors my new internist put me on 40 mg of Zocor for the same reasons. Symptoms didn't really begin to show up til the beginning of 2002, several years after I started taking Zocor. In early 2002 I developed a still undiagnosed soreness in the heart area, and during that year I began to develop symptoms of increased anxiety, such as the first panic attack in my life.

At the end of the year, in December, I developed chronic insomnia that I still haven't recovered from. Shortly after that, in March of 2003, I developed peripheral neuropathy -- numbness and tingling in my feet. Around that same time I also began to have intermittent heart palpitations -- sort of like the "fight or flight" syndrome. It was as if I was having anxiety symptoms without any mental cause. I also noticed that I had become more irritable with people. During 2003 I tried to cope with the insomnia and anxiety by taking drugs like Ativan and Ambien. By the end of 2003 I realized this was a dead end and stopped taking those drugs. During 2004 I tried repeatedly to use standard behavioral modification therapies to recover from insomnia. My complete lack of success at this had the sleep docs mystified. By 2004 I had also developed a chronic sense of exhaustion, and I began to experience deterioration in my cognitive abilities.

I began to have trouble remembering words for things or people's names. My memory began to lose its "stickiness". I could read a whole book and then have only the vaguest idea afterwards what I had read. I also suffered intermittent loss of sexual libido. My professional training gave me a PhD, so it was disconcerting to find my mental acuity suffering, with bouts of mental fogginess. Because the side effects of the statins are not widely publicized, I had not heard about them until I read the book "Secrets of Serotonin." That book noted that the statins were correlated with a higher incidence of death due to suicide, accidents and violence. If the statins exacerbate any tedencies towards depression or anxiety or cause mental confusion, this would explain those results. That was my first inkling that Zocor might be the cause of my various unexplained symptoms and mental deterioration.

I've now been off the statins for five weeks.

7.) I, too, seem to be one of the unlucky for whom the new crop of statins has been as much a curse as a relief. I am a 47-year-old male in (otherwise) excellent health. Approximately 4 years ago, at my physician's direction, I began a regimen of 20mg of Lipitor per day. At the time, my total cholesterol was barely above 200 but my HDL/LDL ratio left something to be desired. I must admit, the Lipitor did its job in the reduction category.

During treatment, my total cholesterol has hovered in the high 140's and my LDL around 90. Now for the bad news. For at least the last one to two years, several highly abnormal (for me anyway) physical issues have arisen. I'll repeat, I have always enjoyed excellent health. I am retired from the U.S. Air Force having accumulated nearly 6,500 flight hours on a variety of reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft in my career. I never missed an annual flight physical and other than an occasional sinus infection (and the consequent DNIF paperwork), my medical records had nothing in them but physicals.

Over the last two years however, for no identifiable reason, I've experienced the following:
Nagging, dull ache between and just below my shoulder blades, Moderate insomnia (difficult to both fall asleep and/or stay asleep), Persistent fatigue; Often unable to focus or stay "on task" at work: often forget what I'm doing right in the middle of doing it. Occasional dizziness or possibly vertigo. I don't think I've ever had a panic attack, but to hear people describe one, the feeling sounds very similar. Often felt like I was in a "fog" or "detached" from my body. Definite short term memory loss: often completely unable to "find the right word" or remember someone's name. Possible degradation of visual acuity: between 1980-2000 I changed eyeglass prescriptions once. Between 2000-2005, my eyeglass prescriptions have increased in strength pretty much annually.

I guess the first and most obvious question any intelligent person would ask would be, "Well, why in the heck didn't you mention all this to your doctor?" Each and every one of the symptoms I've mentioned above were insidiously gradual in their appearance. I simply wrote them off to "getting up in years". Older people get body aches for no good reason. The older you get, the less restful you sleep. You tire more easily the older you get. As you progress in age your ability to concentrate naturally decreases. And so on, and so on.

As I mentioned, I am retired military with a memory like a steel trap ( which I always had as evidenced by having to learn three foreign languages ) and the ability to focus and stay on task are literally job requirements. Being an analyst and researcher by trade, I tried to find a common denominator for the health issues I was experiencing.

Needless to say, when my search happened to lead me to some statin discussion forums, it all hit me like a brick. I actually almost cried at the relief I felt when reading accounts from other patients that I could easily have written. This has since been replaced by the contempt I now feel for the drug companies that have somehow managed to keep it all a dirty little secret. I have stopped taking Lipitor and have started a "repair regimen" in hopes that I can at least get back to where I should be minus the side-effects.

I won't go into all the gory details but I'm supplementing my diet with CoQ-10 (which has apparently been depleted by the Lipitor), anti-oxidants, vitamins and Acetyl L-carnitine. I would have never guessed in a million years I'd be siding with the "naturalists" on this and resorting to nutra-ceuticals. Heck, they were the people I used to make fun of! He who laughs last, eh?

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

Books From Amazon

The Dark Side of Statins
The Statin Damage Crisis
Cholesterol is Not the Culprit
Statin Drugs Side Effects
Lipitor, Thief of Memory

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