It’s Time To Take Your Medicine. Or Is It?

It’s Time To Take Your Medicine. Or Is It?

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If you’ve been taking prescription medicine for a while, you may not even glance at the instructions when you get it refilled. As time goes on, you may forget an important thing about taking your meds. When you take them matters — whether they're for allergies or high blood pressure.

Taking your medicine at the right time of day can make a big difference in how well it works. The importance of timing is already well known for many common drugs. The specific time a drug is taken may improve its ability to control health problems and lessen side effects.  

Just as important, when you don't take medicine for a chronic health condition the way you should, it can be unsafe. If you have high blood pressure, for instance, not taking your meds as prescribed puts you at risk for stroke, heart disease and kidney failure. 

The information that comes with your prescription from the pharmacy has a lot of details to help you take your meds safely. 

On the Clock 

Many conditions are treated with drugs that need to be taken at specific times.  

Allergies: Most people take once-a-day antihistamines in the evening, around dinner, to combat symptoms. With antihistamines that can make you sleepy, the nighttime dose makes sense. There are some allergy meds that need a morning and an evening dose. Others may be needed every four to six hours. These meds are made so they don’t cause drowsiness.

Heartburn/acid reflux: Heartburn often happens after you eat. Acid reflux most often occurs at night. Neither of those times are ideal for taking medicine to help both conditions. Medicine works best before you eat. Doctors advise patients to take medicines in the morning before eating your first meal of the day. You won’t see relief right away. It takes several days for the medicine to cut down on stomach acid. For immediate, short-term relief, rely on antacids. 

Depression: It is important to follow your doctor’s advice about when to take these meds. Some can cause insomnia if taken at night. Others can cause drowsiness and need to be taken at night. The instructions on the medicine package will let you know which time is right.

Asthma: Doctors often advise asthma patients who take a steroid medicine once a day to take it between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Since asthma is often worse between midnight and early morning, taking the steroid in the late afternoon allows it to be most effective during that critical time. During flare-ups, you may need to take your medication more often. Don’t decide on your own to increase the doses you take. Let your doctor know if you’re struggling with your asthma, and let them make the call. 

Blood pressure: Those who use medicines to control high blood pressure usually take them in the morning to help keep their levels steady during the day. Blood pressure often goes down at night as you sleep. 

Cholesterol: Statins for managing cholesterol work best when taken before bedtime. The liver produces the most cholesterol after midnight. 

Diuretics: Used to flush excess salt and water from your body, they can cause frequent trips to the bathroom. Most people take them during the day, often in the morning. Taken too late in the day, sleep can be interrupted by the need to go. Activity during the day also helps the flushing process. 

Osteoarthritis: Many people have pain, swelling and soreness at different times of the day. Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work best when taken four to eight hours before the most intense pain. This ensures the highest levels of NSAIDS are in the blood stream when pain hits. Most can be taken several times a day, but don’t take them more than recommended on the drug label. You may also need to take them with a meal to help with absorption and prevent an upset stomach. 

Rheumatoid arthritis: The stiffness, swelling and pain of rheumatoid arthritis is usually worst in the morning. Taking over-the-counter pain meds during the late evening may be the most effective way to prevent pain from developing overnight. You may want to take these meds several times a day, as well.  

Thyroid conditions: You should take your thyroid medicine in the morning before meals. If you take it with food or drinks, it can interact with the ingredients in some foods. In some cases, your body may not absorb the medicine correctly. Making these medicines part of your waking routine can give them time to work before you have your morning coffee and breakfast. 

Reading the label on your medicines is the easiest way to prevent errors and overdoses. 

If you have questions about taking your meds, talk to your pharmacist. If you have problems with a medicine, tell your doctor. Even if it’s something as simple as a pill that is hard to swallow.  Don’t let anything prevent you from taking your meds in the way provides the best results. There may be another drug that you can try. 

Sources: What’s the Best Time of Day to Take Your Medicine?, leaving site icon Advocate Health Care; Timing When to Take Your Medications, leaving site icon AARP, 2013

Originally published 5/23/2019; Revised 2022, 2024