Ambien for Insomnia: How It Works & Side Effects

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD
Sep 12, 20226 min read
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A poor night’s sleep can affect your health and well-being — you may have more trouble driving or feel like you aren’t performing as well as you could at school or work. When you regularly don’t get enough sleep, you may be more at risk for issues like weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, or depression.1

If you frequently have trouble getting to sleep or if you wake up often throughout the night, you may be dealing with insomnia. This common medical condition can be incredibly frustrating, but it can sometimes be treated with sleep medications such as Ambien, which also goes by the generic name zolpidem.

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Can Ambien Make You Sleepy?

Ambien helps encourage sleep. This drug boosts a neurotransmitter  that calms down processes in the brain, making them less active and helping you feel more relaxed and sleepy.

People with chronic (ongoing) insomnia may experience higher-quality sleep after taking this medication. Additionally, Ambien can help people with occasional insomnia get to sleep more quickly and stay asleep longer before waking up.2 However, it doesn’t usually seem to help people wake up fewer times throughout the night.3

Some studies have found that people who take Ambien feel less tired and can concentrate better the next morning.4 On the other hand, other research has shown that high doses of the medication can lead to higher levels of drowsiness the day after.5

Ambien has only been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a short-term insomnia treatment. It is not meant to be used for longer periods of time.2

How Is Ambien Taken?

There are multiple forms of zolpidem. One tablet, simply called Ambien, is swallowed by mouth. It works quickly to put you to sleep. The other oral tablet, called Ambien CR, works over a longer time period — one layer makes you sleepy very quickly, while the next layer works more slowly to make you drowsy throughout the night.6

There are also forms of zolpidem that are taken in other ways. Zolpimist is a liquid that is sprayed into the mouth, while Edluar and Intermezzo are both tablets that dissolve after being placed underneath your tongue.7

Most of these forms of medication are taken once a day before you go to bed. However, Intermezzo is taken if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.7

When using zolpidem tablets, your doctor will usually recommend a dosage of 5 to 10 mg per day.8 Make sure to only use your prescribed dose, since it is possible to overdose on Ambien.7

After taking Ambien, Zolpimist, or Edluar, plan to stay in bed at least seven hours. If you know you won’t be in bed that long, it is not recommended that yout take the medication.7

The Safety and Side Effects of Ambien

Ambien abuse and dependence are common. It often becomes less effective over time, making people feel like they need to take a higher dose than prescribed. Your body can also become so used to Ambien that you can no longer go to sleep without it.2,6

How Long Should You Use Ambien?

Ambien is only meant to be a temporary solution to insomnia, used for a day or two. It is not recommended that you use itfor more than two weeks unless your doctor tells you to.

Talk to your doctor before you stop using Ambien. You may have to gradually decrease your dose. If you stop using it suddenly, you could develop symptoms of withdrawal such as stomach cramps, feelings of shakiness, nausea, sweating, panic attacks, or uncontrollable crying.7

Ambien Side Effects

Ambien can cause side effects like:7

  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Digestive symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Aches and pains
  • Balance problems
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Pain, numbness, or a feeling of “pins and needles” in your arms or legs
  • Ringing or itching in the ears
  • Strange dreams
  • Heavy menstrual periods

Tell your doctor if you notice any changes after starting Ambien. Get immediate medical assistance if you develop hives, swelling, itching, breathing problems, yellow skin or eyes, chest pain, or blurry vision.7

Can You Drink While Taking Ambien?

Alcohol should not be mixed with Ambien or other forms of zolpidem. You may experience worsened side effects when you take this drug while drinking.7 Additionally, using Ambien along with alcohol or drugs may cause you to experience hallucinations or start acting strangely.2

Is Ambien the Best Treatment for Insomnia?

Because Ambien often causes problems like dependence and withdrawal, and can be difficult to use safely, doctors typically first recommend other solutions for sleeping troubles.2

Experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as a first insomnia treatment option.10 During CBT-I, a specialist helps guide you in examining and changing your beliefs, behaviors, and feelings surrounding sleep. This treatment has helped many people leave their insomnia behind.

Research has found that CBT-I is just as effective as sleeping pills. Unlike medication, it can continue to work long after you stop therapy. It also doesn’t come with a long list of side effects that can impact your health and well-being.11

To learn more about CBT-I and learn how to put your insomnia behind you, talk to one of Dawn Health’s sleep coaches. Fill out our questionnaire to get started.

References

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, June 15). How Sleep Affects Your Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation/health-effects (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation/health-effects)

  2. Bouchette, D., Akhondi, H,, & Quick, J. (2022, May 8). Zolpidem. In StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK442008/ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK442008/)

  3. Xiang, T., Cai, Y., Hong, Z., & Pan, J. (2021). Efficacy and safety of Zolpidem in the treatment of insomnia disorder for one month: a meta-analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Sleep medicine, 87, 250–256. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2021.09.005

  4. Krystal, A. D., Erman, M., Zammit, G. K., Soubrane, C., Roth, T., & ZOLONG Study Group (2008). Long-term efficacy and safety of zolpidem extended-release 12.5 mg, administered 3 to 7 nights per week for 24 weeks, in patients with chronic primary insomnia: a 6-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, multicenter study. Sleep, 31(1), 79–90. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/31.1.79

  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018, February 13). Questions and Answers: Risk of next-morning impairment after use of insomnia drugs; FDA requires lower recommended doses for certain drugs containing zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist). https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/questions-and-answers-risk-next-morning-impairment-after-use-insomnia-drugs-fda-requires-lower (https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/questions-and-answers-risk-next-morning-impairment-after-use-insomnia-drugs-fda-requires-lower)

  6. Penn Medicine. (2018, July 1). Melatonin and Zolpidem: Do Sleeping Aids Actually Work? https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/july/sleeping-aids (https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/july/sleeping-aids)

  7. MedlinePlus. (2019, November 15). Zolpidem. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a693025.html (https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a693025.html)

  8. Hoque, R., & Chesson, A. L., Jr (2009). Zolpidem-induced sleepwalking, sleep related eating disorder, and sleep-driving: fluorine-18-flourodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography analysis, and a literature review of other unexpected clinical effects of zolpidem. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 5(5), 471–476.

  9. Mayo Clinic. (2022, June 1). Zolpidem (Oral Route). https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/zolpidem-oral-route/description/drg-20061195 (https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/zolpidem-oral-route/description/drg-20061195)

  10. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2017, August 1). Management of Insomnia Disorder in Adults: Current State of the Evidence. https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/products/insomnia/clinician (https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/products/insomnia/clinician)

  11. Rossman J. (2019). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia: An Effective and Underutilized Treatment for Insomnia. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 13(6), 544–547. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827619867677


Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.

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