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What is Ambien (zolpidem)?

Ambien (zolpidem) may help you if you have insomnia or trouble falling asleep.

The drug has been used since 1992 and is one of the most frequently prescribed drugs for people who have difficulty sleeping.

This medication belongs to a class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics which work by calming your brain so you feel more relaxed. This medication is usually used for short treatment periods of one to two weeks or less.

Ambien is available in two forms: immediate release and extended release.

Ambien is an immediate-release tablet that helps you fall asleep quickly. It is available in 5mg and 10mg¹ tablets.

Ambien CR is the extended-release version. Ambien CR has two layers: the first layer dissolves quickly to help you get to sleep and the rest of the tablet dissolves slowly to help you stay asleep. Ambien CR is available in 6.25mg and 12.5mg² tablets.

This medication is not suitable for children.

What is Ambien used to treat?

Ambien is used to treat insomnia in adults. It helps you get to sleep faster so you can have a better night’s rest.

How do you take Ambien?

Follow the instructions on the packet and prescription label carefully, and always follow your doctor’s advice.

Don’t take this medication in higher doses or for longer than recommended.

Take this medication by swallowing it whole with or without food. Don’t crush, chew, or suck the tablet. It’s best to take it right before going to sleep, not before or after meals as the drug works quickly.

Your doctor will prescribe you a dose based on your gender, age, health conditions, other medications, and your response to treatment. The recommended initial dose of Ambien (immediate release) for women is 5mg³, and either 5 or 10mg³ for men. Your dosage may be increased to 10mg if 5mg isn’t effective.

Taking a 10mg dose may be too much for you, limiting your alertness during the following day. This can impact your ability to drive, operate machinery, and do other activities that require full focus. Always speak to your doctor before changing your dose to ensure it’s safe to do so.

Older adults and people with liver disease may need to take a lower dose than younger users.

Don’t take Ambien multiple times during the same night; it should only be taken once at bedtime.

Bear in mind that you’re more likely to experience amnesia if you don’t get at least seven to eight hours of rest after taking Ambien.

Seeing results

Ambien takes effect within 30 minutes, and most people experience the full effects within one to three hours, regardless of whether they took the immediate or extended-release version.

The drug can be detected in urine up to 24 to 48 hours⁴ after ingesting a high dose, and it can be detected in the blood after 6 to 20 hours.

Ambien has a relatively short half-life of 2.5 to 3 hours.

Potential side effects of Ambien

Ambien might make you feel dizzy. If the dizziness doesn’t go away, speak to your doctor. The drug’s sedative effect can be greater in older adults, with dizziness or severe drowsiness causing falls, accidents, and serious injuries.

The drug can also make you feel sleepy during the day if you took it the night before, putting you at risk when driving or operating machinery. Bear this in mind and avoid these activities until you know how the medication affects you.

Some people who take Ambien before going to bed experience episodes of sleepwalking and other unconscious activities, like eating, driving, engaging in sexual activity, and talking to people.

If this happens to you, you may have no memory of these activities. This puts you at serious risk of injuring yourself and others and can potentially be fatal. Speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you realize you have been acting unconsciously at night while taking Ambien.

Becoming dependent on Ambien or developing an addiction to it is another serious risk of taking the medication. Ambien abuse can lead to overdose or even death.

Long-term use of Ambien

Ambien should only be used temporarily as it becomes less effective when taken long-term and carries the risk of addiction. Tell your doctor if your insomnia symptoms don't improve or worsen after using this medicine for seven to ten consecutive nights.

Ambien is categorized as a Schedule IV drug under the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Drug Scheduling categories⁵. This means that it has a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence if taken over a short period of time as your doctor prescribed.

However, it is possible to become physically dependent on Ambien if you take it for more than two weeks⁶. Physical dependence occurs when your body becomes tolerant of Ambien, meaning you need to take more to feel the same effects.

Your dependence may eventually become an addiction, characterized by withdrawal symptoms, limited control over your use of the drug, compulsive use, cravings, and the desire to use the drug even though you know it’s harming you.

Symptoms of Ambien addiction may include:

  • Taking larger doses than prescribed

  • Having cravings

  • Renewing your prescriptions more often than usual

  • Spending a lot of money on the drug

  • Isolating yourself from loved ones

  • Putting yourself in dangerous situations and having no memory of them

You need to speak to your doctor and get help if you think you may have become dependent or addicted to Ambien.

Other potential complications from long-term Ambien use

You could experience other side effects and complications when using Ambien long-term, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Agitation

  • Confusion

  • Unusual thoughts

  • Hallucinations

  • Memory problems

  • Personality changes

  • Risky, dangerous behavior

  • Decreased inhibitions

  • Suicidal thoughts

Missed doses

You only take Ambien when needed, so you’re unlikely to miss a dose.

Overdoses

You might feel sleepy, confused, light-headed, and your breathing may become shallow when you take too much Ambien. There is also a risk of fainting and coma.

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you have taken an overdose of Ambien.

What to discuss with your doctor before taking Ambien

Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are allergic to zolpidem or have had an allergic reaction to Ambien in the past. They also need to know if you are allergic to any other medications.

Let your doctor and pharmacist know what other prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal remedies you are currently taking or plan to take.

Some medications interact with Ambien. Tell your doctor if you are taking medication to treat:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Colds or allergies

  • Pain

  • Cough

  • Seizures

Your doctor should also be aware if you have the following health conditions:

Your doctor may adjust your dose of any other medication you are taking or prescribe a different dose of Ambien. They will monitor you closely for side effects.

Tell any medical professional, including dentists, that you’re taking zolpidem before you undergo surgery.

If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, tell your doctor before taking Ambien. The drug may be harmful⁷ to a developing fetus if taken during pregnancy.

Stopping Ambien

Stopping Ambien carries the risk of withdrawal effects, including:

  • Extreme nightmares

  • Convulsions 

  • Fatigue 

  • Lightheadedness 

  • Nervousness

  • Panic attacks

Speak to your doctor if you experience any withdrawal effects, as they can help you manage them.

Interactions with other drugs

Ambien interacts with some other medications, making it less effective or increasing the risk of side effects and complications.

Tell your doctor if you take any prescription and nonprescription drugs (including opioids, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers, or medicines for anxiety or seizures), supplements, and herbal products before taking Ambien.

Ambien and pregnancy

Many women experience insomnia during pregnancy, with around 66%⁸ of women reporting difficulty sleeping in the third trimester. For most women, it’s not particularly serious and may be treated with simple interventions. However, some women experience more severe insomnia, which significantly impacts their quality of life and ability to function.

Ambien is often prescribed to pregnant women, but information about its safety is limited. No evidence⁸ suggests Ambien increases the risk of birth defects, but more research is needed.

Allergy information

Zolpidem can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people, causing symptoms such as:

  • Hives

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Swollen face, lips, tongue, or throat

  • Chest pain, fast or irregular heartbeat, or feeling short of breath

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Feeling like you might pass out

Stop taking Ambien immediately and seek emergency medical help if you have any symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Ambien clinical trial history

Clinical studies¹ have been carried out to find out how effectively zolpidem can treat transient and chronic insomnia.

462 adults with transient insomnia took part in a double-blind, parallel group, single-night trial in a sleep lab where researchers compared zolpidem (7.5mg and 10mg) against a placebo.

Both doses were found to be more effective than the placebo in decreasing sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep), improving sleep duration, and reducing the number of times participants woke up.

A five-week double-blind, parallel group trial compared two zolpidem doses against a placebo to assess effectiveness in 75 adults with chronic insomnia. Compared to placebo, researchers found that 10mg of zolpidem improved sleep latency and efficiency during the first four weeks of treatment; however, it didn’t reduce the number of awakenings.

Tips and advice for taking Ambien

  • Take Ambien exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

  • Don’t take more or less than what is prescribed.

  • Keep this medicine out of the reach of children.

  • Never share your medication with anyone else, and only take it for its prescribed purpose.

  • Don’t take Ambien before traveling.

  • Try to get at least seven to eight hours of rest after taking Ambien.

  • You may experience some side effects from the medicine, including dizziness and night-time activity.

  • Until you know how zolpi­dem affects you, avoid hazardous activities like driving and operating machinery.

  • If you’ve recently had alcohol or taken any medication, don’t take Ambien.

  1. Ambien label (2008)

  2. Ambien CR (zolpidem tartrate extended-release) tablets (2016)

  3. Ambien | Rx List

  4. How long does Ambien stay in your system? | American Addiction Centers

  5. Drug scheduling | United States Drug Enforcement Administration

  6. Ambien addiction and abuse | Addiction Center

  7. Zolpidem | Medicines in Pregnancy

  8. Insomnia and sleep deficiency in pregnancy (2015)

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Disclaimer

Here at HealthMatch, we’ve done our best to ensure that the information provided in this article is helpful, up to date, and, most importantly, accurate.

However, we can’t replace the one-to-one advice of a qualified medical practitioner or outline all of the possible risks associated with this particular drug and your circumstances.

It is therefore important for you to note that the information contained in this article does not constitute professional medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or recommendation of treatment and is not intended to, nor should be used to, replace professional medical advice. This article may not always be up to date and is not exhaustive of all of the risks and considerations relevant to this particular drug. In no circumstances should this article be relied upon without independent consideration and confirmation by a qualified medical practitioner.

Your doctor will be able to explain all possible uses, dosages, precautions, interactions with other drugs, and other potential adverse effects, and you should always talk to them about any kind of medication you are taking, thinking about taking or wanting to stop taking.

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