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Pills are one of the most convenient inconveniences of the modern day. A scientifically engineered capsule to improve your body — all you have to do is take it as directed. That’s where the problems come in though. With food or without? Day or night? Skip a dose or take an extra? And when it comes to Wellbutrin, one of the questions we see most is whether you can take Wellbutrin at night instead of morning.
Wellbutrin is an effective way to treat mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks and more, but it does have some limitations. The internet is rife with all manner of complaints and anecdotal observations of side effects from medications, but Wellbutrin seems to get a lot of attention for the dangers of taking it at the wrong time of day.
Maybe you missed a dose or two of your current prescription, or maybe you’re researching when to take your new pill for the best results. Maybe you’re just a night owl wondering what fresh hell you’ll unleash on yourself if you take antidepressants at a different time than directed. We don’t know you — we’re not here to judge.
All we’re here to do is explain this whole Wellbutrin at night problem in simple terms. In fact, let’s jump straight into the question — does it matter what time you take Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is the brand-name version of the antidepressant bupropion, which wasapproved by the FDA in 1985.
Bupropion isn’t what you’d usually think of when you think of an antidepressant — while many antidepressants use a mechanism of action that affects your brain’s serotonin levels, bupropion actually targets dopamine levels (a pleasure neurotransmitter) and norepinephrine (a stress neurotransmitter).
These neurotransmitters serve slightly different purposes than serotonin, but all are crucial to regulate depressed moods.
So, a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) like bupropion can be a valuable tool for some people whose depression is resistant to treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or who can't tolerate the common side effects of SSRIs, including sexual side effects.
Wellbutrin is FDA-approved for treating a variety of medical conditions, not just limited to depressive disorders.
Bupropion can also help some people with smoking cessation, treat seasonal affective disorder (also known as seasonal depression), and in an off-label capacity, it can be used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (compare Wellbutrin and Adderall), sexual dysfunction as a result of antidepressants and bipolar disorder, as well as help people with obesity lose weight and help others cope with anxiety.
If you’re saying “wow that’s a lot,” then, yeah, you’re right. But for all Wellbutrin’s benefits, it also has some significant adverse effects to worry about.
Potential risks or side effects of Wellbutrin include constipation, dry mouth, nausea, tremors, headaches, agitation, dizziness, weight loss and insomnia. In severe (and rare) cases, it can lead to seizure disorders, raise your risk of suicidality or cause allergic reactions. But insomnia, as you might have guessed, is where the question of what time of day to take Wellbutrin comes in.
According to the National Library of Medicine, bupropion can cause problems with falling asleep or staying asleep, and it can potentially cause some adverse effects if taken alongside sleep aids.
What this means is that if you have trouble sleeping already, Wellbutrin might exacerbate the problem, particularly if taken right before bed. Or for some people, it can cause new sleep issues.
So you could take Wellbutrin at any time of day, really — there’s no internal mechanism of this medication in its oral tablet form (or any other delivery method, like an extended-release tablet) that causes it to fail if taken after dinner.
There’s likewise no risk of immediate death from swallowing bupropion medications after sunset, like some sort of vampire/werewolf prescription nightmare.
What’s generally agreed upon, however, is that there are certain ideal circumstances for taking your daily dose, and neglecting them might cause problems.
Wellbutrin can sometimes cause stomach pain, for instance, so experts sometimes recommend taking it with food if you have this symptom. And while not everyone experiences it, some people do indeed have trouble sleeping on this medication.
If that’s you, it’s generally agreed that you should try to take Wellbutrin in the morning or during the day, so the side effects are lessened by the time you’re hitting the hay.
Officially, that recommendation is simply that you avoid taking bupropion “close to bedtime” if you’re experiencing insomnia, but popping it right after you wake up puts your medication intake as far from bedtime as possible.
Just don’t skip too many doses of bupropion to rearrange your schedule — Wellbutrin withdrawal symptoms can be rough.
Used correctly, bupropion can be an effective way to treat depressive disorder, prevent weight gain, and help people with depressive disorder who need atypical antidepressants after struggling with the side effects — including sexual side effects — of other classes of antidepressants.
But those benefits don’t earn Wellbutrin a pass on insomnia, which means that you might have to weigh some pros and cons of taking this medication.
If you’re struggling with insomnia from bupropion, consider switching your daily schedule to front-load this medication, rather than using it before bed. But if you’re not yet on bupropion and are considering this drug class for your treatment of depression, consider speaking to a healthcare professional about your concerns.
Mental illness is not a one-size-fits-all kind of condition, and there are a variety of reasons to consider treatments that don’t work for other people as the option for you. Likewise, it’s important to realize that a medication other people have had success with doesn’t necessarily promise the same results for your needs.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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