What is Trazodone?

Rahul Shivkumar's profile picture
Rahul Shivkumar
Mar 22, 20235 min read
white and blue medication pill blister pack

What is Trazodone?

Trazodone, a medication with a multifaceted nature, serves various purposes in the medical world. Initially developed as an antidepressant, it has gained prominence for its off-label use in treating insomnia and anxiety. Let's dive deeper into the world of Trazodone and unravel its unique characteristics, applications, and potential benefits.

Developed in the 1960s, Trazodone is classified as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI). This class of drugs works by modulating the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood regulation, sleep, and anxiety. As an atypical antidepressant, Trazodone differs from other classes of antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

Despite its primary indication as an antidepressant, Trazodone has become increasingly popular for its off-label use in treating insomnia, particularly when sleep disturbances coexist with anxiety or depression. Due to its sedative properties, it is often prescribed at lower doses for those struggling with sleep, making it an appealing alternative to traditional sleep medications.

In addition to its sedative effects, Trazodone is known to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. This dual-action benefit has led to its widespread use in managing various conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even chronic pain with a psychological component.

Now that we've established a foundational understanding of Trazodone, let's explore the research supporting its use.

Has Trazodone Been Studied?

A plethora of research has investigated the efficacy and safety of Trazodone, particularly for depression, insomnia, and anxiety. These studies have illuminated our understanding of the drug, its mechanisms of action, and its potential side effects.

Here's a summary of some key studies on Trazodone:

  • A 2008 review published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry examined the use of Trazodone for the treatment of insomnia in patients with mood disorders. The review concluded that Trazodone could be a useful option for these patients, as it appeared to improve sleep without exacerbating mood symptoms.
  • A 2011 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology compared the efficacy of Trazodone and zolpidem (a popular sleep medication) in treating primary insomnia. The results indicated that both drugs were effective in improving sleep quality, but Trazodone demonstrated a more favorable side effect profile.

In addition to these studies, several other research findings highlight the potential benefits and risks of Trazodone:

  • A 2017 review published in the journal Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy explored the use of Trazodone in the treatment of anxiety disorders. The review found that Trazodone could be a useful option for some patients with anxiety, particularly those with comorbid depression or sleep disturbances.
  • A 2012 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine investigated the long-term use of Trazodone for insomnia in a sample of older adults. The study found that Trazodone was effective in improving sleep and maintaining its benefits over a one-year period, with a relatively low risk of adverse events.

How Does Trazodone Work?

The underlying mechanisms of Trazodone's effects are intricate and multifaceted. As a SARI, Trazodone modulates serotonin levels in the brain by both blocking certain serotonin receptors and inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin. This dual action results in increased serotonin availability, which is thought to contribute to its antidepressant and anxiolytic effects.

Trazodone's sleep-promoting properties are primarily attributed to its antagonism of histamine and alpha-adrenergic receptors. By blocking these receptors, Trazodone exerts a sedative effect that aids in sleep initiation and maintenance. This aspect of Trazodone's pharmacological profile distinguishes it from other antidepressants, making it a popular choice for addressing sleep disturbances.

In addition to its effects on serotonin and other neurotransmitter systems, Trazodone may also influence sleep architecture. Some research suggests that Trazodone can increase the duration of slow-wave sleep (SWS), the deepest stage of non-REM sleep. This enhancement of SWS may contribute to the drug's ability to improve sleep quality and promote restorative rest.

What are Trazodone's Side Effects?

While Trazodone has proven beneficial for many patients, it is not without potential side effects. Some of the most common side effects associated with Trazodone include:

  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Less common but potentially serious side effects may also occur, such as:

  • Low blood pressure, particularly when standing up quickly (orthostatic hypotension)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Serotonin syndrome, a rare but serious condition caused by excessive serotonin levels
  • Priapism, a persistent and painful erection that requires immediate medical attention

It's essential for patients taking Trazodone to consult with their pharmacy, healthcare or digital health provider if they experience any concerning side effects or if their symptoms worsen.

Dawn's Therapists are Here to Help

Dawn's Therapists are trusted by thousands and available as soon as today. Fill out Dawn Health’s questionnaire to get started right from your phone or computer — no in-person visits necessary. Quality, affordable therapy that's covered by insurance is available when you begin with Dawn.

Rahul Shivkumar's profile picture
Rahul Shivkumar

Software Engineer & Sleep Enthusiast

It’s time to stop blaming the night monsters.

Let’s work together to transform your sleep for the better.