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Does it really matter when you take medication?

When getting a new prescription, the pharmacist is tasked with reviewing important information with you regarding medication management. Among the things he or she may cover is when to take medication. Just like certain prescriptions should be taken with food or with a full glass of water for best results, timing also matters when it comes to taking your daily medications. The best time to take medication may vary depending on the drug, but if your pharmacist says to take your dose at the same time each day, it’s best that you do so.

Does it matter what time you take your daily medication?

In some cases, the time of day you take your meds can help you to have the maximum benefits with the least side effects. A good example of this is medications that can cause drowsiness or mild nausea, according to Colgan Sloan, Pharm.D., the program director of Emergency Medicine at the University of Utah Pharmacy Services. In those cases, he recommends taking them before going to bed. 

Your prescription label will contain pertinent information regarding your dose, how often to take it, and any other special instructions (such as when to take medication, whether to take it with food, or warnings about side effects). If you have any questions about when you should be taking your medications, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist. Dr. Sloan notes, “Some medications cause drowsiness in patients, [while] the same medication makes other patients more awake; your healthcare team can assist in optimizing your medication regimen.”

Is it better to take pills in the morning or at night?

The best time to take medication varies by the drug, its effect on the body, and the side effects. For example, statin medications for high cholesterol are generally considered to be most effective when taken before bed. The reason for this is that the cholesterol production by your liver peaks after midnight and is much lower in the morning and early afternoon. According to Dr. Sloan, “[Statins] should be taken at night as that is when the endogenous production of cholesterol is greatest.” However, he does note that with some of the newer meds, this isn’t quite as big of a problem. “There are ‘newer’ statins (atorvastatin, rosuvastatin) with longer half-lives where timing is less of an issue.”

Why is it important to take medication at the right time?

Taking your meds at the proper time isn’t just a way to prevent discomfort from side effects, it can also have big implications for your safety. For example, some studies suggest that taking blood pressure drugs before going to bed, rather than in the morning, can prevent even more heart attacks and strokes. This may be due to the fact that most heart attacks occur in the early morning. However, there are still a variety of factors that may come into play. Older patients may be advised to take their blood pressure medication in the morning, to prevent falls that occur during the night as a result of sudden drops in blood pressure. In some cases, split dosing may be advisable (i.e., taking half the dose in the morning and half the dose in the evening); however, not all medications can be split. For this reason, it is critical that you talk to your doctor or pharmacist before making any changes to your medication routine. 

Should you take medication at the same time every day?

Sometimes taking your meds at the same time each day is recommended to ensure their efficacy. For example, for birth control pills taking your dose at the same time each day may be extremely important. Especially with progesterone-only pills, timing is imperative for preventing pregnancy. These pills work by making your ovaries less likely to release an egg and making cervical mucus and the uterine lining unfavorable for a pregnancy. Unlike the combination pill, which allows a little more flexibility, the progesterone only pill wears off in a smaller time window. Either way, doctors recommend taking birth control pills within the same (roughly) three-hour period each day to make sure the drug is effective at preventing pregnancy.

How can I remember to take pills?

In order to remember to take your daily medication at the same time, Craig Svensson, Pharm.D., Ph.D., dean emeritus and professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology in the Purdue University College of Pharmacy, recommends using reminders. 

There are a variety of tools you can use to help remember to take your medications. These range from apps in your phone, to good, old-fashioned paper and pen planners. The key is to use a tool that you see and use often so that you will actually get the message prompting you to take it. 

“About 50% of people don’t take their medication as instructed,” Dr. Svensson says. “The most common reason is people simply forget. Therefore, it is best to select a time that is easy to make taking the medication a part of your normal routine.” He suggests incorporating your daily meds into a routine you will already be doing daily, such as brushing your teeth.

Ultimately, just like any other aspect of medication management, it’s important to make sure you understand the instructions given by your doctor or pharmacist and stick to them.