Many widely used sleep medications, including benzodiazepines like Valium and barbiturates like Nembutal, can cause daytime drowsiness, over sedation, and chemical dependency. In the 1990s, Ambien, the brand name of Zolpidem, was designed to offer the benefits of other hypnotic drugs without some of the more severe side effects. Ambien has since become one of the most popular sleep medications, ranking at number 15 on the list of the most frequently prescribed drugs in the country, according to IMS Health.
At its introduction, Ambien was touted as a safe short-term sleep aid, lacking the risk of narcotic sedatives. But now that Ambien has been available to the public for over 20 years, the more serious side effects of this medication have come to light. Understanding these side effects can help consumers make informed decisions about using hypnotic drugs and may discourage non-medical users from taking this drug recreationally.
Physical side effects
When taken as directed, Ambien calms the activity of the brain and nerves, making it easier for the person taking the drug to fall asleep. At the same time, Ambien can have serious side effects on the cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive and sensory systems. Some of the potential reactions to Ambien include:-
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Double vision
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression
- Muscle cramps
- Skin rashes
- Abnormal body movements
Ambien is characterized as a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic medication. The chemical structure of this drug was designed to reproduce the effects of benzodiazepines on the central nervous sytem (CNS) without the potential for abuse or addiction. Like benzodiazepines, Ambien acts on receptor cells in the brain that bind with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a brain chemical that influences sleep and other neurological activities. Some users have experienced negative cognitive or psychological side effects to Ambien, such as:-
- Memory loss
- Lack of concentration
- Disorientation to place and time
- Lack of emotions
- Loss of pleasure in daily life
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Sleep disturbances
Although Ambien was originally intended to produce less drowsiness than other sleep medications, recent research has shown that at higher doses, the drug can remain active in the individual the morning after it is taken.
Sleepwalking and other activities
After taking Ambien before going to sleep, some individuals have experienced episodes of sleep walking and other unconscious behaviours. These activities include eating, driving, having sex, and holding conversations with other people. In these reported cases, the individuals were unaware of these activities while they were occurring. Other patients reported having complete conversations, leaving their homes to walk through the neighbourhood, or even waking up behind the wheel with no memory of driving. For some people taking the drug to treat their sleep disorders, sleep behaviours can be corrected by reducing the dose of Ambien, but in extreme cases, the drug may have to be discontinued in order to prevent the behaviour.