When it comes to communicating to other doctors and pharmacists about your medications, there are several important words your doctor will use that you should know about it. One of the big ones is the abbreviation “qhs” Here’s everything you need to know about this common medical abbreviation.

What it Means

The medical abbreviation “q.h.s.” is an acronym  for the Latin phrase “quaque hora somni”. This translates to “every night at bedtime”.

How Your Doctor Uses It

Doctors like to communicate quickly but precisely. The shorthand “qhs” allows them to do just that. Primarily, doctors use this abbreviation shorthand to communicate with the pharmacist who will be filling your prescription.

You may not give it too much thought, but a pharmacist actually needs a lot of details from your doctor to understand how to properly fill your prescription. The drug name is only the first piece of information. The doctor must also tell the pharmacist how much (the dose), how often (the frequency), how long (the total duration), and what time of day to take the medication. The medical abbreviation “qhs” answers the last question. It lets the pharmacist know that she should instruct you to take the medication at bedtime.

For example, let’s say your doctor was prescribing you Ambien, a sleeping aid. She wants to let the pharmacist know that this medication needs to be taken at bedtime. She would likely write out a prescription that reads:

“Ambien 10mg. Take 1 tab qhs”

When the pharmacist receives this prescription electronically or written on prescription paper, she would know the type of medication to prescribe (Ambien), the dose (10 mg) and when she should direct you to take it (“qhs” or at bedtime).

Why Might Your Doc Want You to Take a Med at Bedtime in Particular?

You should know that your doctor usually has a good reason she wants you to take a particular medication at bedtime, even if she doesn’t explain it. We doctors are bad at explaining those kinds of details in the moment! But here’s the scoop.

Often, your doctor will tell you to take a certain medication at bedtime to avoid certain side effects. Certain medications for mood problems, for example, have a side effect of drowsiness. Taking a medication such as this at night would allow you to experience the mood benefits of the medication, without allowing the sleepiness it may cause to slow you down during the day.

A more common reason your doctor wants you to take a particular medication at night is because it will simply work better if you take it then. Let’s go through some examples of this.

Common Medications Best Taken at Bedtime

“Statins” – High Cholesterol Medications

When “bad cholesterol” from your diet builds up in your arteries, they can lead to stroke, heart attack and other problems. Statins are a class of drugs that can be used together with a healthy diet and regular exercise to lower your “bad cholesterol” levels. Common statin medications include: atorvastatin (Lipitor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and lovastatin (Mevacor, Altocor).

Cholesterol is produced in the liver. The liver makes the most cholesterol after midnight and the lowest amount during the morning and afternoon. Because the liver kicks out the highest amount of cholesterol at night, statin medications work the best when they are taken just before you got to bed.

Sleep Medications

It will come as no surprise that sleep medications should be taken when it’s time for bed. Taking them at the wrong time could mean falling asleep when you don’t want to! Always remember to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery while under the influence of these medications.

Common medications that fall into this category include zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), trazodone, and melatonin.

Mood Medications

Your primary care doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe medications to help improve your mood which have an undesired side effect of making you drowsy. Prescribing these medications, to be taken at bedtime, helps minimize this effect. Common mood medications that can make you very sleepy, which are typically prescribed to be taken at bedtime include: trazodone and seroquel (low doses of these are used for sleep, higher doses are used to improve mood), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and mirtazapine (Remeron).

What if You Work the Night Shift?

So when should you take your “bedtime” medications if you work at night and therefore sleep during non-traditional hours? Those working second and third shift hours find themselves in this situation and it can be confusing trying to follow your doctor’s orders in these situations.

In general, any sleep medication or mood medication that causes sedation as a side effect should be taken when it is YOUR personal bedtime. Statins and many other medications have a bit more flexibility. The only way to know for sure is to talk with your doctor about your unique sleeping situation and medication. It is crucial that you clarify with them what time of day you should be taking all of your medications.

7 Simple Tips to Remember to Take your Bedtime Meds

Here are 7 simple tricks that can help you remember to take your “qhs” medications on time.

1. Work it into Your Bedtime Routine: Try taking your bedtime medications with an activity you routinely do every night. For example, do it every night after you brush your teeth or right before you put on your CPAP mask.

2. Get Help from a Loved One: If you are living with a loved one who is willing and able to help remind you to take your night time medications, be sure to enlist their help in jogging your memory each day. As taking your bedtime medication because habit, you will find yourself relying on their nudge less and less.

3. Take Meds With Your Partner: Even better than a loved one simply reminding you is making it a routine for you and your partner to take your bedtime medications together. Now that’s team work!

4. Use Technology: If you’re on the tech savvy side, set an alarm on your cell phone to go off at the same time every evening to remind yourself to take your bedtime medication.

5. Bust out the Pillbox: This tried and true method is a staple for a reason. Find a low cost pillbox which has more than one compartment for each day of the week. Place your pills in the appropriate place and set the box where you are sure to see it each day.

6. Put your Pill Bottle in Plain Sight: Put your medication bottle or pill box on a countertop, desk or other surface rather than tucked away in a cabinet or drawer. As they say, if your medication is out of your sight, it will be out of your mind.

7. Be Mindful as You Take it: Each day, before you take your pill, hold it in your hand and say out loud “I’m taking Wednesday night’s pill now”. The brain remembers sound most easily so it is important you say the statement out loud. This, in combination with moving out of “autopilot” mode and bring your awareness to the task of taking your medication is key. It will eventually strengthen your natural ability to remember the task.

…Now You Know!

We hope we have cleared up the meaning of common usage of the medical abbreviation “qhs”. We know that it can be intimidating trying to decode “doctor speak”.

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    Dr. Brittani James

    Brittani James, MD is an Academic Family Medicine Physician who teaches medical students and residents and practices on Chicago's South Side. She co-founded Med Like Me with her twin sister Dr. Brandi. Read their inspiring comeback story From Self-Doubt to MD. Feel free to send Dr. Brittani a message here.

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    2 thoughts on “What the QHS Medical Abbreviation Means and How Doctors Use It”

    1. Just enjoyed the repeat episode of you two wonderful women on the ellen degeneres show. Keep up the great work. As a woman of color that worked as a firefighter for 25 years it is always nice to see all types of people working in various jobs and helping and representing everyone in our community.

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