tired driver asleep at the wheel, drowsy driving

People who have trouble sleeping face a cruel dilemma. If they don’t get any sleep, they won’t function well the following day. For example, driving while sleep deprived can be nearly as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. However, taking medication to get to sleep could have the effect of turning you into a driving zombie the next morning. That is what this reader discovered.

Ambien Turns Dad into a Driving Zombie:

Q. A few years ago I started taking Ambien for a sleep disorder. One day I drove my seven-year-old daughter to school in the morning after taking Ambien the night before. Luckily the school was only a half mile from my house. I didn’t truly wake up until I was sitting in my car in the garage after returning home.

I found out later that I had repeatedly driven into the curb. One of my tires was flat as a result. My daughter was so traumatized by the incident that she wouldn’t let me drive her to school again.

I think this drug is dangerous. I got even more than a full night’s sleep but I still turned into a dangerous driving zombie in the morning.

Lowering the Dose of Ambien:

A. The FDA has received more than 700 reports of impaired ability or road traffic accidents from people who had taken zolpidem (Ambien). As a result, the agency has recommended lower doses to avoid just the sort of risky situation you experienced. Here’s a link to the agency announcement.

What Are the Alternatives to Sleeping Pills?

If you would like to know more about the pros and cons of popular sleeping pills plus practical alternatives, you may want to listen to our interview with two of the country’s leading sleep experts. Show #878, Solving the Sleep Dilemma, can be found at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Could Sleeping Pills Lead to Dementia?

New research suggests that older people who rely on sleeping pills may be at greater risk for developing dementia (BMJ, online, Sept. 27, 2012). This, added to the risk of morning hangover, makes such drugs less desirable for getting a good night’s sleep.

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  1. Cindy B.

    Being high-strung, I’ve always had problems sleeping. I strenuously avoid Rx meds; the only ones I’ve ever taken are Warfarin and a beta-blocker for Atrial Fibrillation, and they are both being D/C’ed. That said, I do resort to taking Ambien from time to time when I can’t sleep (less often than once a week). Like Gaby said, you have to be very careful with the dose. I take 1/2 of a 10-mg tab about 1/2 hour before bed. Then, if I wake up and still have 3-4 hours to sleep, I bite up the other half and place it under my tongue to dissolve. This gets the ambien thru (and out of) your bloodstream faster and prevents that hung-over feeling.. I’ve never had that hangover, nor any weird adventures in the middle of the night.

  2. CBL

    The last five years I taught school–and I loved teaching, but not the system–I had trouble sleeping. Woke up several times and especially at 4:30. What helped me was to get up, read for pleasure for about an hour, and then take a nap before the alarm went off at 6:15. This was very restful. I think the combination of reading enjoyment and the luxury of a nap was the psychological boost I needed. Now that I’m retired, I often do the same thing. Accepting that I’m not going to sleep like a teen-ager ever again is a help, too.

  3. Gaby

    For the woman who became a driving “zombie” after using Ambien: Dear, you are using too large a dose. Based on long experience of my own, some people should not use the CR form at all. The original 5mg form works very well, if it’s broken in half. I take one-half at bedtime, and if I wake up more than 6 hours before I have to get up, I take the other half. I don’t need both halves on many nights. You can break it 1/3, 2/3, too, taking the larger half at bedtime.

  4. Judy K.

    Good Morning,
    I read your comment regarding Ambien in this mornings Charlotte Observer and I wish to comment that Ambien is a very dangerous drug. I consistently tell my family and friends not to take it.
    Here is what happened to me: I was having trouble sleeping so my doctor prescribed Ambien. I had no idea how powerful it was as I generally took it immediately before going to bed. However, one night for some reason I took it earlier and then decided to color my hair. The last thing I remember is putting the color in my hair and actually ironing while waiting to process it.
    The next morning I woke up and thought I still had color in my hair but somehow I had rinsed and dried my hair, finished ironing and put the ironing board away and gone to bed. I even asked my husband if he had done all of that as I had absolutely no recollection of doing any of it… and don’t to this day.
    I have read other reports like the one you detailed today and I know this is a bad drug and cannot understand why doctors prescribe it. If I could start a movement to get it off the market, I would gladly do it. Do you have any suggestions to make the public aware or to start any kind of class action suit. I firmly believe that the man who killed his twin girls could have been under the influence of Ambien. This is all so very sad and it makes me angry that regardless of the 700 reports nothing is being done.

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