The practice of timing medications to the periods when they will be the most effective is known as chronotherapy. Essentially, this method of treatment works with the body’s circadian rhythms or other natural patterns to increase the treatment’s effectiveness, or in some cases, reduce the side effects.
One example of the concept of chronotherapy is the recommendation to take anti-reflux or heartburn relief medications before eating a spicy or greasy meal. However, until recently, few physicians or pharmacists practiced chronotherapy. As a result, many patients received prescriptions with the generic instruction to “take once a day.” While in general, most medications with those instructions should be taken at bedtime, that’s not always the case.
When to Take Common Medications
So, when should you take your medications? We do not recommend making any changes to your medication schedule without first discussing them with your doctor, but research has shown the following timings tend to be the most effective:
Arthritis medications. Timing your medication depends on the type of arthritis. If you have osteoarthritis, a reduction in cartilage that causes pain and swelling in your joints, do not wait until you experience pain to treat it. Instead, take your pain relievers (usually NSAID like ibuprofen) four to six hours before your pain starts to ensure you have the highest level of pain relievers in your bloodstream before pain kicks in. For rheumatoid arthritis, in which bacteria attack the tissues of the joints, medication is best taken at night. This also applies to nonprescription pain relievers. Doing so will relieve the morning pain associated with this disease.
Allergy medications. Anyone with allergies can tell you that symptoms are at their worst in the morning, so it’s best to take once-a-day medications in the evening, since most reach peak effectiveness 12 hours after you take them. Twice-a-day medications should be taken in the morning and evening.
Asthma medications. Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to have an asthma attack in the early morning hours than any other time of day. That’s why it’s best to take your asthma medications in the afternoon, to provide the most relief during the overnight hours.
Cholesterol medications. Liver cholesterol levels are at their highest just after midnight, so it’s best to take your medication before bed.
Blood pressure medications. While you might think taking blood pressure medication before stressful situations — such as before heading to work — is best, but actually, in most cases blood pressure is best as a nighttime medication. Taking your blood pressure medication before bed helps lower blood pressure while sleeping, thereby reducing the risk of stroke or heart attack.
Remembering Your Medications
Medication noncompliance, that is, not taking medications as prescribed, is one of the leading causes of complications from disease and reduced quality of life. However, when you’re taking multiple medications, keeping the timing straight can make compliance challenging.
There are a few ways you can successfully remember to take your medications each day. You might invest in a watch or timer that can be set to alert you when it’s time to take your medication. Ask your doctor if he or she offers a text-message reminder service. Some doctors have invested in these services, which will send you reminders at the appropriate times.
Alternatively, you could try one of the many medication management apps available on the market. For example, the Drugs.com iPhone app allows you to input your prescriptions and dosages to receive reminders about doses and refills and potential interactions. Pill Reminder, a free app for Android devices, performs a similar function.
Taking your medicine as prescribed and on time each day can help you more effectively manage your health and avoid complications. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about what is best for you and experience the benefits of chronotherapy for yourself.
Medicine image by amenic181 on freedigitalphotos.netPharmacist image by safoocat on Flickr’s Creative CommonsAbout the Author:Rodney Sewell is a Georgia-based health care provider, writer and wellness advocate.