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Neurology Now:
doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000279079.92077.8f
Department: Ask the Experts

Your Questions Answered: SLEEP

Thorpy, Michael M.D.

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Michael Thorpy, M.D., is an associate professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY.

Q I've read that the sleep drug zolpidem (Ambien) is causing some people to do outrageous things while sleeping, such as driving and binge eating. Should I stop taking this drug?

A No. There have only been a few cases of people who have taken zolpidem and reported an abnormal response. Therefore, your decision to stop the medication should only be guided by your physician.

Figure. DR. MICHAEL ...
Figure. DR. MICHAEL ...
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Keep in mind that with zolpidem, you need to be prepared for seven to eight hours of sleep. Unfortunately, some people take the drug before they're ready for bed. One common scenario is that a person will be out late at night and think, “It takes a little while for the drug to kick in, so if I wait until I get home to take my sleeping pill, I'm not going to get enough sleep before I get up in the morning.” The person will then take the drug before he or she even gets home. This is not appropriate. You should only take a sleep med around the time you plan to turn in for the night, and you need to be in the appropriate environment for sleeping. If not, there is a chance you will do things and then have no memory of doing them.

When people do these “outrageous” things—drive in their sleep, for instance—they are actually awake and alert. People taking drugs like zolpidem aren't getting into accidents because they're driving while sleeping. The problem is that the next day, they have no memory of having driven. So-called “Ambien drivers” and “Ambien eaters” are experiencing amnesia brought on by drug-induced sleep. Sleep can sometimes cause a kind of amnesia regardless of whether one takes a sleep med, but it is possible that zolpidem adds to the effect.

©2007 American Academy of Neurology

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