Steve Poceta MD
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A reader recently described getting out of bed and walking one night after she had used Ambien (also called zolpidem) to help her sleep. In fact, it is now fairly well accepted that Ambien and other sleeping agents can cause “sleepwalking.” A lot of interest was given to a report from Dr. Mark Mahowald that he and colleagues had a series of patients who seemed to not only sleep walk but also to eat while taking Ambien—with no memory of it. Certain types of eating in the night (sleep-related eating disorder) seem to be a type of sleepwalking during which the person gets out of bed and eats but has no memory of it. The eating is different from “having a snack” to aid in getting back to sleep in that this eating is more compulsory and sometimes strange—like biting an onion. Most of us who have been seeing patients with sleep problems have examples of Ambien producing many types of behavior which can be problematic because the person is, well, basically, half asleep. I have a lady who drove her car for over an hour, and then woke up having parked it and had no memory whatsoever of how she got there. I have another young woman who flooded her bathroom quite severely after apparently taking a bath but leaving the water on. So, it pays to remember that sleeping pills can have side effects, especially if someone is alone and might stumble out of bed or into a car (eg Patrick Kennedy). When starting on sleeping pills you should begin with the lowest doses and increase if necessary. You should be sure that you are in a safe place (not sleeping on the balconey), not mix with alcohol and take the pill only right before going to bed. Used carefully, for many people, Ambien is a very safe sleeping pill. J. Steven Poceta is a licensed practitioner of neurology and sleep disorders who has been engaged by Revolution Health. No information in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat any condition. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Revolution Health.