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HIV Care on Your Schedule: The Best Times To Take Your Pill

Medically reviewed by Marie Dorsey, PharmD, AAHIVP
Posted on June 29, 2023

  • Most people with HIV have the option to take just one pill, once a day.
  • Looking at your personal schedule and side effects of your medication can help guide you to the best time to take your pill.
  • Your HIV care team can provide specific instructions regarding when to take your medication to ensure you get the best possible effect.

Today, most people living with HIV only have to take one pill per day — a treatment that combines multiple lifesaving medications. If your antiretroviral treatment (ART) medication is a single-dose pill, taking it daily is essential to staying healthy and keeping your viral load (the amount of HIV in your body) at undetectable levels. However, the time of day that you take your pill is a choice you must make for yourself.

In this article, we discuss factors to consider when deciding what time of day to take your HIV medication.

Consistency Is Key

No matter when you decide to take your ART, it is important to take your pill at the same time every day.

Doing so can help ensure you don’t miss a dose. Additionally, taking your daily pills 24 hours apart can ensure that your medication is most effective and helps reduce your risk for drug resistance. If the virus becomes resistant to your medications, they may not work. Taking your ART at the same time each day will help you maintain an undetectable viral load, which will help prevent you from transmitting HIV to others.

There are several ways to remind yourself to take your medication regularly, including:

  • Downloading an app that helps you track medication-adherence
  • Setting an alarm on your phone to go off at a specific time every day
  • Using a weekly or monthly pill box, which helps you organize your medications in one spot and track if you’ve missed a dose

Consider Your Personal Schedule

Creating and sticking to a routine for taking your medication will make it easier to stick with your treatment regimen. Choose a time that fits well with your daily schedule. “When to take your pill depends on you. Some people take theirs’ in the morning and some take it at night,” a myHIVteam member shared.

“I like staying on an early morning schedule taking my meds,” one member shared. “I take them every morning, religiously.”

In planning when and where to take your medication, consider the following questions:

  • What time do you wake up?
  • What does your morning routine look like?
  • What time do you go to sleep?
  • What does your nightly routine look like?
  • When do you eat your meals?
  • What time do you go to work or school?
  • Do you regularly use alcohol or drugs?
  • Where do you keep your medications (e.g., at home, in your car, in a bag)?
  • Do you take any other medications on a daily basis?
  • What activities do you do every day at the same time?

Pick a Consistent Time and Place

Ideally, you should choose a time and place that you’ll be consistently available to take your pill. You may want to select a time when you will be at home for privacy. If your wake-up time or bedtime routine varies from day to day, take your medication at a time when you know you’ll be awake and in the same location. If you take other medications, such as a daily birth control pill, it may be advisable to take both medications at the same time of day.

Connect Your Medication Time With a Daily Routine

NAM Aidsmap recommends linking your medication time to a regular daily activity so it becomes part of your daily routine. Some members find that centering medications around a mealtime makes it easier to remember. “I take my pill around lunchtime,” a member mentioned.

Alternatively, you might decide to take your pill before brushing your teeth each morning or evening. Placing a sticker or some tape on your toothbrush could further serve as a reminder.

Be Careful With Drugs and Alcohol

Some people miss doses of their ART due to alcohol and drug use. These substances can affect your brain and sometimes make you tired, forgetful, or unable to keep routines in general. Take your medicine apart from your use of drugs or alcohol. For example, if you usually use drugs or alcohol at night, it may be best to take your medications in the morning.

Keep in mind that alcohol and drugs can also negatively affect your immune system, and some recreational drugs can interfere with the effectiveness of your medications or increase your risk of side effects. If you are worried about substance use, speak to your care team or check out resources from FindTreatment.gov.

Gauge Side Effects

New ART regimens are generally well-tolerated and have minimal side effects. Many side effects go away within a week or two after starting a new regimen.

Short-term side effects of ART, which vary from medication to medication, may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Rash
  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • Weight gain

One myHIVteam member advised others to consider what effects their HIV medications have on them when deciding when to take their pills: “For instance, if the meds make you tired, take them at night. If meds make you hyper, take them in the morning. If they give you stomach problems, take them with a meal.”

Taking certain ART regimens with meals can help reduce the risk of nausea and vomiting. However, as we’ll discuss later, some medications shouldn’t be taken with food, so it’s important to check the medication’s instructions or to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Members have shared their own personal preferences based on the way the medications make them feel. “I take mine at night because they help me sleep since it promotes tiredness.”

It may take a while to discover how your HIV medicines make you feel. Speak to your health care provider about any ART side effects, and ask them about how scheduling your doses can help reduce their impact on your life.

Follow Specific Drug Instructions

Instructions vary from HIV drug to HIV drug. As one myHIVteam member pointed out, “Some medications you must take with food, and others should be taken without food. Do you know what kinds of food you should eat with medications to make that drug work at its maximum? Did you know that some HIV medications work better when you eat fatty foods? It’s important to read those pamphlets that come with the medications so you know how to best take them.”

To minimize side effects and promote effectiveness, take your medications as prescribed, whether that means taking them with food or at a specific time of day.

Bear in mind, too, that many HIV medications can cause unwanted drug interactions when taken with other medications. For example, rilpivirine — a component of many newer HIV combinations — should be taken several hours apart from certain medications used to treat heartburn or acid reflux.

Speak to Your Health Care Team

Deciding on the best strategies to take your HIV medications can be complicated. If you have specific questions about how or when to take your medication, or if you’re concerned about potential drug interactions, ask your HIV doctor, primary care provider, or pharmacist for guidance. They can help you figure out how you can best add your medications to your daily routine and help you to avoid drug interactions.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myHIVteam, the social network for people with HIV and their loved ones, thousands of members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with HIV.

What time of day do you take your antiretroviral therapy? What advice do you have for others starting their HIV treatment? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on June 29, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Marie Dorsey, PharmD, AAHIVP is currently a clinical pharmacist at Bridgewell Medical, specializing in medication therapy management and holds a certification as an HIV pharmacist through the American Academy of HIV Medicine. Learn more about her here
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here

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