Q. My husband has had a terrible time with the sleeping pill Ambien. One night he got up and wandered out of the house. A stranger had to bring him home. Another time he poured coffee on the computer in the middle of the night. He remembered nothing of either of these episodes.

I have heard from other friends who have also had trouble with Ambien. One got up and fixed a whole meal. He remembered nothing about it but there it was in the kitchen when he woke up.

Are there any natural ways to get to sleep? I am frightened to have my husband keep taking Ambien.

A. We continue to hear from readers who experience sleep walking or even sleep driving under the influence of Ambien. Forgetting the episode afterwards is also common.

There are many ways to promote sleep naturally. They include a hot bath in the evening, a high carb snack at bedtime and herbs like valerian. We are sending you our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. It can  be downloaded for $2 from the Website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

One other trick might be to add magnesium before bed. Some readers tell us that about 300 mg of this mineral helps them ease into sleep. Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea, however. It is not safe for people with kidney problems.

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  1. PFG
    Reply

    I’ve been taking 10 mg of Zolpidem (originally Ambien) on-and-off for eight or nine years with NO ill effects nor weird behavior, and I am 84 today. However, many of the stories in this thread describe my situation, namely that I must take the drug more often now to assure five or sometimes even six hours of sleep. I’ve had a sleep apnea test, results pending. Without Z, I lie awake for hours, finally getting up at 3:00 or 4:00 AM to read for a few hours. A daytime nap helps recover some sleep time, but it’s not the same. As I’m on a blood thinner and an anti-AFib drug (and drugs for GERD, thyroid deficiency, and restless leg syndrome) I would like to withdraw from Z except, perhaps, in unusual situations, e.g., the night before a very early trip departure. Looking for solutions.

  2. JC
    Reply

    I too take Zolpidem & cannot sleep without it. Sleep apnea and pretty high stress/anxiety level (I own my own business) keep me awake. After years of sleeping only for short periods of time I did a sleep study & was prescribed a CPAP mating and the Zolpidem. For the last 2 years, I’ve tried sleeping w/o the drug & can’t do it – I’ll be awake all night then fall asleep in the early a.m. for an hour or so. The CPAP keeps me breathing, it’s sometimes uncomfortable & I have slept without it, but can’t without the med. Before the sleep study I tried all sorts of natural sleep aids, not worked for me for more than a week or so. Looking forward to retirement & a reduced anxiety level, then perhaps another look at natural sleep aids.

  3. PH
    Reply

    I have been on generic Ambien (Zolpidem) going on almost 2 years… my brain does not shut off AT all at night, I can be exhausted and not sleep!! I will lay there for 6 hours staring at the ceiling… when I do fall asleep without Zolpidem its usually 430AM, and when I have to get up at 515AM and go to work, its impossible to function… I so want to get off my dependency to this drug… on Friday and Saturday nights I don’t take it, and I am up all night, (its 1:07AM now) I fall asleep about the time the sun comes up… some nights I can fall asleep without it, but wont stay asleep… OTC sleep aids like Tylenol PM just make me drowsy and I can feel my brain fighting the drug… I’ve tried these other homeopathic meds, I have no health insurance for a sleep disorder clinic… NOTHING helps! I wish someone or something can help!!

  4. Doug
    Reply

    BRN, you might ask your doctor about trazodone. I have delayed sleep phase syndrome and I use 50 mg of trazodone with 3 mg of melatonin nightly to control my circadian rhythm and get to sleep relatively quickly (within thirty minutes of going to bed). Ambien works well, but it’s easy to misuse, which I also know from experience. It’s quite unsettling when you look in the bottle, only to realize you took more without knowing it. Part of the problem people have is they will take Ambien and not go to bed right away. If you take this stuff, it’s important to go to bed within a few minutes because its effects begin almost immediately. They do in my experience, anyway. So yeah, consider asking your doctor about trazodone. I can’t imagine it having any abuse potential, but your physician knows best.

  5. John
    Reply

    I have been taking ambien for about 2 years. I use it 2-3 nights a week to sleep. I have not experienced anything other than the ambien munchies if I take it and don’t go to bed right away. It is a hypnotic so I used it to get through my anatomy classes, I would sleep in an ambienated state while I played lectures over and over in my headphones, imbedding the info deep in my subconscious. I have seen patients who took it and had adverse reactions the first time using it, but I guess my tolerance in built up enough. Each time I take it I sleep exactly five hours. But extended use can leave me exhausted because supposedly you do not get any REM sleep under its influence. I do have what I call an “Ambien fog” some mornings if I haven’t gotten enough sleep in the past few days.

  6. BRN
    Reply

    I am 29 years old. Up until 9 months ago, I was dangerously addicted to opiates. Sadly, that started when I was only 14. I decided to get clean for myself and my children and did just that. However, I have lost my dad, nephew, and sister recently, and started finding it impossible to sleep. My doctor put me on ambien. The first night, I remember taking 1 pill….. The next morning, there were none in the bottle. Everything felt unreal. I quickly discovered a couple broken pills on the kitchen counter.
    I called my husband at work. He told me that i had been snorting them. Apparently, I was also doing some crazy stuff too. (Watering candles, calling people who didn’t exist, erratically changing pjs, and too many things to list.) This medication works well if taken as directed, but not if you have a tendency or history of abusing meds. I am scared to refill my prescription, and my husband is of no help in safely distributing meds. Is there anything safe that is just as effective?

  7. oc
    Reply

    I am a person who has Rhea. Arthritis, many other problems and because I have taken Ambien mostly 5mg, I did not have any problems but times when I did take the other 5mg then I found such things as cracker crumbs in my bed (I do not eat in my bed) which scared me. Well my problem now is I moved to a different city than where I was living, and both my medical doctor and Rheaumatolgy Doctor will not issue Ambien and it scars me as I have a low tolerance to much of the medicines.
    If I do not have my medicine, I am wide awake all night long and I know how miserable that is and also I am a lady of 74 years of age. Any suggestions, please. I also am taking Magnesium capsules. Melatonin is out as I am allergic to it.

  8. TGal
    Reply

    I became dependent on Ambien following my father’s death in 2007. I never experienced hallucinations, etc. but convinced myself I couldn’t sleep without it. After a couple of months, my regular doctor refused to refill my prescription. I then turned to my OB/GYN for more. This went on for over a year.
    Eventually my OB/GYN, who also finally refused to keep refilling my ‘script, recommended that I go through Cognitive Sleep Therapy. I reluctantly agreed.
    They first did a sleep test to determine whether or not I had apnea (I didn’t) or any other physical reason for not sleeping. Then I had to commit to a once-a-week appointment with a sleep therapist, along with keeping a daily log of such details as what time I went to bed, how long it took to fall asleep, how many times I woke in the night, etc.
    During this same time, I was given more Ambien, but in diminishing amounts. After 12 weeks, I was sleeping like a baby without Ambien. I can highly recommend this therapy approach to anyone with long-lasting insomnia and/or dependence on Ambien. My therapy was partially covered by insurance, which helped, as the sleep test itself was about $500.
    Sadly, however, I am now having sleep troubles again for no apparent reason – waking every night at 3 a.m. – despite not being depressed, overly stressed or angry. I am trying to employ some of the tips I learned from therapy but nothing seems to be working. I refuse to go back on Ambien, given my past. Will try the magnesium as some have recommended here. I am considering making appointments for another session or two with the therapist, though.
    If anyone has any questions about my experience with Cognitive Sleep Therapy, please feel free to ask.

  9. Allie
    Reply

    Ambien can easily ruin your life if you’re not careful. I started abusing ambien a while back ago for the “hallucinogenic” effects. I have gone outside, cooked meals, sleep- walked, and many, many other things while taking ambien. I still take it, but no longer abuse it. I will finally be asking my doctor to put me on something else.
    I hate Ambien for everything stupid that I’ve done while on it. This drug is dangerous and once people realize that they’ll stop abusing it.

  10. Mariah
    Reply

    I have been taking Ambien for a little over a month to combat the amount of Lamictal I take. The Lamictal, mood stabilizer, is to help level my Bipolar1, so it’s a necessary evil. Ambien was the sixth med in less than four months to try and get me some sleep, lack of sleep causes manic episodes and it’s all bad from there (not that you need all of this background).
    I was finally able to sleep with the 10mg of Ambien; I have slowly been trying to bring it down from the 10mg. I know each body is different but may I forewarn readers of the HEADACHE if you cut the dose to low. Headache lasts all day with NO relief.
    If you can avoid Ambian I would recommend it as a user myself. Sadly enough natural remedies don’t work across the board and I am currently saddled with Ambian. FYI changing Lamictal is a no go, it was the first med in ten attempts over two years that work. I’m not willing to repeat what I went through for those two years.

  11. Robin
    Reply

    I’ve been taking ambien for about 2 years. After having spent 2 years struggling to sleep just 3-5 hours a night with no relief. I tried everything. I hated the way melatonin made me feel. Tried the hot bath, massage, cal/mag, you name it, if it was natural, I tried it. Nothing worked.
    I’ve never taken a whole ambien. I figured it would put me into a coma. I usually take around 2.5mg give or take a bit. About a year ago I started taking 1000mg. of L-tryptophan along with 2.5mg of ambien. It works really well most nights.
    I did read a warning about doing this. But, said they never had anyone with adverse reaction while taking this combo. Only with antidepressants because of the seritonin, which your body also makes from L-tryptophan.

  12. l.c.
    Reply

    please try l-tryptophan 500mg
    with vitamin D3 1000mg and 3 tsp Milk of Magnesium…see if it helps….I have been on Ambien X 6 mos and crave my own sleep too….the above seems to be beginning to help, as I only take Ambien 3-4 times a wk now….only when I have to get up to go to work…if I can be home, the above Vitamin regimen works…trying to get over the psychological addiction I have to Ambien.

  13. Miriam
    Reply

    I have read about Ambien being recommended for a period of app. 10 weeks and supervised by a doctor. Well, I have been taking it, supervised by a doctor, for 21 years.
    When I started taking it, I was in a bad marriage and was not sleeping and I had told my doctor I couldn’t even be motivated to have sex with my husband; once I started to take Ambien, I informed him that I was having sex with my husband, was enjoying it, but didn’t even know it until the next morning when I took a bath. His answer was: “well, now we are killing two birds with one stone”.
    I am divorced now, and a couple of years ago my son who was 37 at the time, had a heart attack; the paramedics took him. Since I had taken the Ambien already, realizing the danger of driving, I went back in the house, washed my face over and over and drove straight to the hospital. Not only did I not see any red lights on my way, I waited thru the surgery, I spoke to the doctor after it, and still don’t remember what the doctor said to me that night; I do remember now leaving the hospital, going to Dennys and having breakfast. How did I do that? I don’t know. I adore my son.
    I want to stop taking Ambien but nothing else seems to work. I have even tried taking Tylenol PM 3 at a time and 2 more three hours later and nothing happened. That time it was a long week-end and there were no doctors available, therefore I was awake for five days. Cried my eyes out. Any suggestions????

  14. DAS
    Reply

    I’ve done fine on Ambien for 6 years. A major bout of postpartum depression left me as a major insomniac. All has gone well on it except for the first day I took it, during the day after my husband read the faded pharmacy label wrong to me. He said take it every nine hours, when it actually read nightly. My brain tried to conquer the drug, I had a terrible stomach ache as we drove to town. I ended up in the emergency room thinking I had anxiety, however my blood test showed my liver wasn’t functioning within normal limits. As long as I take it at night I’m great, but I pity the fool that’s on it accidently by day. This traumatic incident left me more sleepless than ever, and forced me to rely on Ambien nightly for years. The only other side effect is my long term memory seems to be not as good. I would love to somehow ween myself off of it. Perhaps I’ll try some of the above suggestions.

  15. Robert Grayson
    Reply

    In recent months I have noticed that I have been sleeping better. I thought that might be a side-benefit of Forteo injections (I have severe osteoporosis). Now I realize it is more likely the result of taking 300mg of magnesium at night. I began taking it for constipation about the same time I started the Forteo injections.The magnesium did not relieve my constipation.

  16. marsha Vestal
    Reply

    I have taken 2.5 mg of Ambien without any problems except for one instance. Apparently I didn’t drink enough liquid to dissolve the tablet and noticed on my drive to work the next morning (about mile 8 out of 17) that I was having a difficult time staying in my lane. I had to exit on a curved ramp at my destination and couldn’t control my car enough to keep from scraping the wheels/tires on the curb as I exited the ramp. It cost me a tire, a scraped wheel and a lot of embarrassment.

  17. dorit stockel
    Reply

    i took Ambien CR with the doctor’s blessing, of course. Don’t even recall if I slept but I do know at 1P.M. while out shopping with my daughter:suddenly everything turned the color GRAY I thought I was dying.Daughter, fortunately, was driving and I said ” I have to go home NOW. No, you can’t stop off for anything”. To this day, when I pass that street I get that sickening feeling !

  18. George L. Fee
    Reply

    Several years ago, I was put on Ambien due to lack of ability to sleep. I awoke the first morning after taking it and was to take my car in for repair. My wife was following. I ran a stop sign and hit another car. The officer was very nice, and I told him my brakes failed. I didn’t remember driving there at all!!
    Upon returning home I discovered several tablets of Ambien missing, although I’d taken only one that I recalled. I found them scattered around the hall and in the bathroom, accounting for all but two. Had I sleeepwalked and taken more?
    I gave them to my wife and told her to give me only 1/2 tablet and hide the rest. This worked. I no longer need the medicine and will avoid taking it at all cost.

  19. Carol H. Meppen
    Reply

    I too have experienced atypical experiences on Ambien. One occasion I suggested to my husband that he should invite “Ted” home for a chicken dinner. I have never met ‘Ted’ and I had no chicken in my freezer. Ted is my husbands bridge partner.
    That same night I insisted on making my husband an avacado sandwich and when he refused I ignored him and proceeded to prepare both of us a sandwich, includidng using a sharp knife to peel the avacodo from the pit, and sliced an entire loaf of newly baked bread. I found the evidence of this in the refrigerator the next morning. My husband never ate his samdwich.
    Then I blithely announded that I was going to seriously look into ‘breast reduction surgery’. I remembered none this the next morning. On other occasions I have called long distance for lengthy chats with friends and family and never remembered these event either. I no longer take ambien, but if I do my husband has said he will take all the car keys and hide them. CHM

  20. Beverly Aldridge
    Reply

    BTW’s symptoms sounded like my experience with sleep apnea. She did not mention snoring at some time in her life or now, but sleep apnea was all I could think about as I read her note.

  21. Marge Gwartney
    Reply

    I had lost my husband and was needing sleep badly. Dr. gave me Ambien, said it was the best on the market and non-addictive. One night I took one and didn’t go right to bed. Noticing it was after midnight, I got up from the puter and collapsed until 5:30am and woke up with a knot on my head the size of Texas, plus a broken arm. Not good stuff for sure.

  22. BarbKracke
    Reply

    Since I was “hit” with RA 4 yrs ago and was in 24/7 pain the first three years, any “good” sleep went out the window.
    For 4yrs I was desparate for sleep. Tried every natural remedy without success. Tried Ambien and knew after one night, that it made me feel very “wrong”. Never took it again.
    Restoril works for 3 nights, then I feel wrong/bad again. Took Trazodone once. So I struggled every night for almost 4 yrs.
    It wasn’t until two months ago when I started with 1 tab Calming and 1 tab Neurexan from Heel, plus 50mg 5-HTP, plus 500mg Mag Citrate, plus New Chapter’s (whole food) CalMag 3 tabs,plus 100mg Nattokinase plus a few bites of turkey, plus 1 apple, that I can sleep on my own again. I get 4 hrs of sleep this way, because hip pain is still waking me up. But no bad feelings in the morning anymore, and no waking after two hours thinking something is wrong with my heart.
    Valerian, Kava Kava, Gaba, Melatonin make me feel “bad” also. By bad, I mean anxiety, heart palpitation, something-wrong-feeing in the middle of the night.
    I am quite sure now that if it weren’t for my left hip, I could sleep through.
    But I am really happy, I don’t need sleeping pills anymore!
    BTW, your program on NPR this morning about e-patients was very interesting, because I am one, too. Researched RA on the internet, found RBF, and the rest is history so-to-speak.
    Best Regards,
    BarbK

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