The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Can She Break the Ambien Habit and Still Get the Sleep She Needs?

Non-drug approaches offer safe ways to get to sleep and beat insomnia.

Q. I am 30 years old and have a terrible time getting to sleep. I’ve been taking Ambien for more than a year and if I don’t take it I toss and turn all night.

I want to get off it because my husband and I want to start a family. I don’t want to take the medication while trying to conceive. How can I break my Ambien habit and still get some sleep?

A. The official prescribing information warns that abrupt discontinuation of Ambien could lead to withdrawal symptoms. Nonetheless, one placebo-controlled study found no rebound insomnia when people stopped this sleeping pill suddenly, even after they had been on it for a year (Journal of Psychopharmacology, Aug. 2012).

Non-Drug Sleep Tactics

If you work with your doctor to reduce your dose gradually, you should be able to employ non-drug sleep strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one successful approach to insomnia. There are others in our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep, such as morning light exposure, acupressure, melatonin or magnesium.

Taking a hot bath about an hour before bedtime is one of our favorites and we hope it will help you, too. Another important tip is to stop looking at computer, tablet or cell phone screens at least half an hour before going to sleep. The blue light these electronic screens emit interferes with appropriate melatonin production by the brain.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Tips for beating insomnia: foods to avoid, foods that help, herbal remedies, sleeping pills. Newly revised (November 2016), our online guide (too long to print) includes drugs that may cause insomnia. Learn about the latest medication, Belsomra.

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I’ve taken 5 mg of zolpiden for 20 yrs. and began during menopause. I fall asleep after 30 mins of ingestion and remain until I decide to get out of bed, am refreshed, alert, in great spirits ready until the next night. My new pcp thinks I’m too old, 71, to take it and that this med should be temporary, so no more prescription. Doesn’t a person need to sleep? And at my age what difference does it make if I’m addicted. Yes, I’ve tried all the over-the-counter drugs with no success, as well as going cold turkey but why should I?

I feel as if I’m being punished for the younger generation’s addiction habit. I think this is discrimination against sr. citizens and could be insurance driven. Instead of reporting it to my company, I can pay for the rx personally. I think physicians should review each person separately. I’d order this med over the internet but am afraid of conterfeits. Oh, by the way my son is a doctor of pharmacology and set guidelines for what insurance companies should/not pay. Think we have interesting conversations?

I do not sleep without ambien. 7 years since starting. I do not nap or dose off at any time. I have had a six-day no sleep streak. Fast forward 5 months. The ambien then sudden stopped working again and had a seven day awake ordeal. The last one sent me to the emergency room but, alas, they said they could not help me. Depression and anxiety will set in after about four of days awake. It has been a hard thing to deal with.

I now take zolpidem 12.5 and trazodone at bed time along with 30mg severe Nyquil. This combination works most nights, and I do not wake for 6-8 hours. I have been through a considerable cognitive behavioral training twice monthly for 12 months with the conclusion of the MD,Ph.D. being, “If you do not sleep tonight your possibility of sleeping is increasing”. My depression is now a thing of the past and no anxiety “attacks” in 3-4 years. I remain exhausted most days but at least I am sleeping.

I’ve been on 10mg of Ambien for nine years and all of the sudden it has just stopped working. I didn’t sleep for three days and when I did sleep it was only a few hours and then wide awake. I’m starting to buckle from lack of sleep and I had my first panic attack yesterday. I’ve started back taking the Ambien but it only lets me sleep for at most 4 hours at a time and I am unable to even tap a nap during the day because I can’t sleep.

I have taken 5 mg of Zolpidem (generic Ambien) for about 15 years. It has worked beautifully, and I sleep quite well with it. I recently ran out before I could get to my Dr. for a refill so I decided now was the time to stop. I cut my remaining 4 pills so that they were roughly 2.5 mg and took those, still maintaining a good night’s sleep. I had none last night and, while I didn’t sleep well or long, I did not wake up with the tired feeling experienced with the medication and had good energy today, albeit at times wishing I could take a nap. At this point, I am off of them and plan to continue. Other than difficulty sleeping, I haven’t had any discernible withdrawal symptoms.

I have been taking Ambien for approx 11-14 yrs. 5mg. nightly. My current PCP is refusing to provide a refill and I have 4 nites of the med left. I have a very very stressful and demanding job and need to sleep. I have never been a great sleeper and I need at least 8 hrs a nite to function. It seems that a physician allowing a patient to stop cold turkey from a med is at the very least unethical. I know I need to stop as I am sure it has affected my memory – so I am not sure what OTC stuff works. Any advice??

You are not alone, and quitting is VERY hard. You must be determined. Most of all, remember that you are not alone! Also, I have tried every over-the-counter medication to no avail. Check with your doctor about taking it during pregnancy. I wish you the best of luck.

I quit Ambien completely on 1/2/18 after being on it for 12 years. I am seeing a sleep disorder doctor just to monitor my sleep and adjust my schedule to get me on a regular sleep cycle. I am on a small amount of Diazapam (2.5 mg) due to being on Ambien so long and taking double the prescribed dosage. This was to reduce side effects, and for the most part the only side effect has been rebound insomnia. But Ambien also stopped working about a year ago so there was no reason to be on it. I am sleeping some but wake-up around 1 am and, if I am lucky, fall back to sleep at 4 am. The sleep is not deep but I have been doing guided meditation not to stress about it. That seems to be working too. Planning to stay the course.

I wanted to share my story here because I have struggled with sleep since college. (the 80’s). I started taking ambien 17 years ago. I took my first pill when Purdue was in the Rose Bowl (so you know that’s been a long time ago). I slept better than I ever have in my life. I asked my doctor for a prescription. Since then, I have struggled to sleep without taking ambien. I mean I can’t even nap if I didn’t take a pill. I have tried to stop taking ambien 4 times in 17 years. It’s not easy, and for one reason or another I always caved and went back on the dumb drug.

The positive in all this is that I have not taken ambien since December 26th, 2017. Not one. I am sleeping some, but mostly feel like I am awake throughout the night. I have very vivid dreams that I KNOW are dreams as they are occurring. Still, I feel better off the drug than on it. I am not exhausted in the morning so I must be getting some level of sleep throughout the night.

By the way, I quit cold turkey. I was taking 10 mg each night. I do eat melatonin gummies at night and I also take magnesium at bed. I’m determined not to relapse. It’s a terrible drug. I was forgetting a lot of current events and my nurse practitioner called me at home to tell me there is indeed a correlation of ambien and dementia. THAT in itself was the main reason I threw them away. It’s not easy, but if I can do it…so can you.

If you don’t mind me asking, How many milligrams of magnesium and how many melatonin gummies do you take? I would like to get off Ambient too, and I’ve been taking 10 mg for years.

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 5 years ago and trying to sleep with the pain led to being prescribed Ambien/Zolpidem. Being prescribed different medications and trying to find what concoction worked for me took time, but Ambien has always been my cure for sleep. I’ve been on a good regimen for over a year but recently I have noticed a BIG increase with late morning/early afternoon grogginess, but it’s extreme.

Yes, I have always experience a bit of grogginess with Ambien but I mean it’s been really bad to where I’ve had to leave my desk and go find a place to “cat nap” and I’ve even had to pull off the road in traffic because I knew I could not keep my eyes open. Is this something new with my diagnosis I now need to deal with? Can side effects change over time? I’m not a coffee drinker. I do have the occasional tea or coke but it’s not a daily thing for me.

My husband insists I need to get off the Ambien and he pushes the coffee/caffeine to help wake me up. I have tried to wean myself off of it but I do not sleep a wink without it. Pain intensity tends to increase at night and Ambien has been my salvation. I will be seeing my doctor after the holidays and talk to him but has anyone else experienced anything similar?

I was prescribed Ambien during a temporary stressful time. Was taking it about 5 times a week for several weeks. Now I can’t get a full night’s sleep without it. I feel sleepy and yawn before I go to bed, but I toss and turn almost all night. Morning caffeine only.

I hate to take it all the time but a lot of antidepressants and sleep meds have a very adverse effect on me, but Ambien has no other side effects for me.

im 74 and been taking Ambien for over 30 years and been told i can’t stop ! what do u say?

I had been taking ambien off and on for last 10 years to help with jet lag as I travel overseas a lot for work. I am 58 years old. Over last 3 years I began taking 5-10 mg nightly. Not sure how it happened but my use went from occasional to daily. My problem is falling asleep. Once I’m asleep I’m good for the night. I started getting headaches, feeling moody and losing my ambition to exercise and work. I didn’t like the feeling of dependency on a pill. I decided to quit cold turkey and I am now at day 21.

The first three nights were very difficult. I maybe slept 2-3 hours each night. I’ve cut back coffee a bit and don’t drink any after 10am. I have taken melatonin a couple of times and it seems to help. After rough first week things have gotten much better. Headaches gone, mood improved, libido improved as has ambition.

I sleep 6-7 hours a night. I wake up now without the grogginess. I do have wild dreams. For me personally weening wouldn’t make sense. I’d have a hard time managing that. Better to just quit. Warning the first few nights are rough. But it gets better.

I can only tell my story. I cannot tell anyone they would have the same experience I’ve had but I’d strongly recommend at least giving yourself a holiday from ambien.

I have been taking Ambien as long as it’s been made. Only time I sleep. Last week don’t remember anything after I took Meds and I drove off in my car and hit another car and got arrested for DUI. Huge things happening here. I am going to have to doc to see if Ambien is out and how to sleep.

Thank you for this

My husband has been taking Ambien 12 I/2 mg. for several years. He thinks he will not sleep without it. His pain management dr. has him on Nucynta 250 mg 2 times a day. This dr. just told my husband that he either has to quit the Ambien or he will have to start reducing the Nucynta. My husband is adamant about not quitting the Ambien. We will go to his primary care dr. in a few days and discuss this issue with her. My husband tends to think the pain management dr. doesn’t realize that he is handling taking these 2 medicines just fine. I can tell his memory is not good at all. He just won’t believe it. Wish me luck.

I have been taking ambien for about 3 years almost every night. Otherwise I don’t sleep well. I was taking 10 mg and recently reduced it to 5 mg, but I also use melatonin with it. I want to get off it completely and try to only use the melatonin until I can sleep a full 8 hours without it.

I always have day time drowsiness/ fatigue which I think the ambien may have a connection to. I had recently stopped taking Zoloft for depression because I heard so many negative things about long term effects. I feel getting off the ambien would also be more beneficial to my long term health. I think that any medication like these need to be slowly lowered in dose to completely stop without having severe issues.

Good Morning! I have taken Ambien for 20+ years – I discussed with my doctor about the long term effects of prolonged use of Ambien… His answer: ‘You are our long-term study’ – YIKES! I am now 46, I worry about not getting enough sleep and memory loss from long term use of Ambien. I want to get off of Ambien primarily because of the long-term effects. Up until 4 months ago I would only use ‘Branded’ Ambien and not generic, (generic companies are only required to use 80% of the active ingredient when manufacturing), the mystery 20% in generics would often give me weird dreams. However, my insurance is a nightmare now – Brand Ambien was now costing me $630 per month – so I took the weird dream route and now take generic. My goal is to get off of Ambien fully. Open to tips and feedback if anyone ‘thinks’ they are experiencing any cognitive issues?

I have used generic Ambien for 20 years also but there have been some short periods when I was off it and depending on .25 Mg of Xanax to sleep. About 2 months ago I realized I was now taking Xanax and 12.5 Mg of Ambien every night and it wasn’t working well. I gave up the Xanax by cutting back to .125 Mg for a few days and then stopped all together. I was surprised and encouraged by how easy it was and recently decided to start cutting back the Ambien.

I cut it back to 7.5 Mg for a few nights and didn’t really feel any difference. Then 5 Mg for a few days followed by 2.5 Mg for a few more days. All without a lot of difference in my sleep. However, when I tried going to no Ambien last night, it was pretty difficult. I have to believe that it was mostly psychological in that just knowing there was no crutch available created enough anxiety to keep me from sleeping.

There are three things I learned about Ambien over the years. You need to reduce the amount “slowly.” I quit cold turkey once and found myself hugging the toilet. I also learned, and this is probably more important, if it’s not working – DON’T INCREASE THE DOSE. Increasing the dose will only be a very short term fix and you will very quickly build a tolerance to the new amount. The final thing I learned was that there are side effects that are very difficult to tie to the drug and you wind up in a doctor’s office with symptoms they cannot explain. Good luck to you and BTW I’m 69 years old and last night was the first night in at least 20 years that I was completely drug free. :O)

I’ve been on Ambien/Zolpidem for 15 years. Did quit cold turkey, a few years ago, but only lasted for a few months. Getting sleep is sooo much better than not, the temptation to nibble at pill is overwhelming. Don’t take a whole pill at a time, nibble in quarters over 7-8 hours of sleep. Don’t experience any side effects, other than being hooked on it for staying asleep. If there were some sure way of kicking the habit without recurring insomnia, I’d certainly try it, otherwise I’m hooked for life.

By totally stopping all CAFFEINE (both COFFEE and ALL TEA) first as any amount of caffeine will increase your anxiety levels. This alone helped me get off of ambien/zolpidem. by not being as nervous and anxiety filled at bedtime it is so much easier to cut back on your ambien/zolpidem. Your body is not wired as much when you hit the bed so it is that much easier to relax as you wean yourself down from the medicine.

Wanting to get off Ambien!! Looking for a “cocktail” of supplements to help me sleep?? Just bought the Herbal Medicine Deep Sleep, 5-HTP and California Poppy extract, not sure how to take them and how much???

I am a 51 year old woman who has been taking Ambien for over 10 years. I will agree that I am dependent on it but I am also dependent on sleep. The notion that we do not need sleep because we are not sleeping properly is absurd.
Proper sleep is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself health.
I do follow all of the other recommendations for a good night sleep and then I take my Ambien.
Without the medication I would toss and turn all night ever night.

Yes, but I don’t want to be taking a sleeping pill while I’m pregnant. Also, ambien really messes with my memory – it’s sad to realize I don’t remember things I learned the previous day, or memories. It’s HORRIBLE with my memory, which defeats the purpose of my life. I want to remember my loved ones, family, children. Ambien, I’ve taken you faithfully for years, but it’s time to say goodbye.. I want my life back.

I agree with you totally about NEEDING sleep for good health. In my classes while studying for my Nutrition and Health degree (Master’s) my instructor
emphasized, “Restful sleep and lots of it is THE no. 1 need for women.”

trying right now to get off Ambien. Slow process as I have cut down from 10 mg to 3 mg and I am up trying to see what has worked for others. Each evening I start with Chamomille Tea, add a benadryl and choline to help my mind settle down then cut my Ambien into smaller doses to help me weine off this drug. I agree that part of my problem is that I am afraid of not sleeping as the next day at work i am achy and in a fog if I don’t sleep.

I took Ambien for 2 years. I went to a health coach, she helped me get off them using different techniques, one was listening to a sleep disk, it was very boring, I think that is what put me to sleep. Now if I have trouble, I listen to my iPod, at a very low volume.

I have taken Zolpidem 10mg. on and off for years. Usually I can cold turkey. I am also on several depression meds.
I am to the point where I have to take 3 -10 mg. pills of Zolpidem a night to sleep, have done 4 at times.
Useless during the days nowadays.
I used to sleep like a baby, anyplace anytime.
Before I got off by tapering down. Am going to try again. Natural herbs do not work for me.

I have been taking Ambien for the last 18 years, every night except for when I was pregnant. I didn’t have to work during that time, so I was able to get by okay, Some days were really rough, though.

I don’t feel like there’s any hope for me to get off Ambien now that I am back working. I can’t risk a twitchy, overtired zombie day. Even on the weekends I have to drive my kids around and don’t want to be tired. I wouldn’t even think of giving it up, but I am resenting my doctor for making me feel like an addict and hate the realization that I am one. I’ve tried everything. My body just doesn’t shut down like normal people’s do. I know no one will be able to help.

I have taken ambient ever night for last six years. I want to try to stop this addiction. I was abused as a child and have night terrors. ambien makes them not happen..I am going to my dr for advice on how to proceed. Anyone have any suggestions.

Thank you for posting this. I have been on ambien for 7 years and want to get off of it and was worried about the rebound effect. The ambien really does not work for me anymore. I love your attitude about not sleeping. I am 59 and have been thinking that maybe I don’t need the sleep I think I do. I wake up happy, go to the gym or swim almost every day between 5 am and 7am. Maybe sleep wise I am where I need to be. I have been so stressed over it I was scared to quit the ambien.

I know that ambien helps to sleep but it also helps to temporarily escape the reason you need it!!!! Do not let the person that abused you win by messing you up more with ambien! This is a very dangerous drug and has many serious side effects that you do not realize for a while! Good Luck!


1st – Never keep sleeping pills near your bed. Keep them as far from your bed as your bedroom allows and in hard-to-open containers.
2nd – chop them in half or smaller.
3rd – Do not watch TV or any other glowing screen within 3 hours of the time you want to sleep.
4th – set your alarm for 4AM or earlier and get up and Stay Awake all day when it goes off.
5th – when you can’t sleep, get out of bed and read while sitting in a straight-backed chair until you are so sleepy you can’t hold up your head.
6th – Google during the Day and do what that says.
7th – If you can’t sleep, get up and stay up until the next night. Do not watch TV or any glowing screen, like a PC.
8th – If all else fails, give melatonin a try. I’ve heard of doctors telling young mothers to give it to their babies (in liquid form) to help the babies sleep. I think it’s a bad idea, trashy and lazy or worse to give any drug (no matter how harmless) to babies other than to fight disease, but it’s better than subjecting a fetus to ambien.
Good luck,
tutorjb1 – JB

To stop Ambien (zolpidem) and still get to sleep, buy an inexpensive pill-cutter at almost any drug store, chop them in half and set your alarm for very early (say 4AM) in the morning. The half-size Ambien will help eliminate the fear of not having Any and if you get up and stay up when your alarm wakes you early, you’ll find it easier to fall asleep that night and can cut the Ambien into fourths and smaller pieces until you’re not taking any and still get to sleep if you keep waking very early and staying awake.
I promise you this will work. It’s probably what most physicians would advise members of their own families try first.

I take 1/2 Unisom and one capsule of an herbal supplement called Sleep from Solaray. It keeps me asleep all night long. Unisom is just an anti-histamine.

I am 66 and have never had a flu shot. I had the flu when I was 12 (at least I think it was the flu). I am of the notion that if I get the flu I will consider myself lucky for the last 54 yrs. I have family members in med. field and they also do NOT get the shot.
No one knows what flu is going to be around or what anyone in particular is going to get. I will take my chances. More folks need to take better care of themselves. Eat mostly veggies (I also eat mostly organic), limit my meat to beef couple times a month and chicken a couple times a wk. I have been eating 3 to 5 oranges a day, before that I eat at least one/two apples a day. Bread foods are a rare treat.
I drink coffee in am and grn. tea the rest of the day along with some OJ. I will have a drink in the evening for relaxation on occasion. I also do NOT go outside all bundled up. I usually do not wear a coat unless I am on my daily 1 1/2 to 2 mile walk, as going to my car does not get me cold enough to be bundled up. I don’t wear a coat to go shopping.
Getting a bit cold once in a while doesn’t hurt anyone, as I have read getting cold is good for you in killing germs on body and in nose etc. My friends get shot, always are bundled up and get sick repeatedly. Go figure. I also have always worked with the public so I am around many ill folks.

I stopped Ambien by gradually reducing the dose. I had insomnia almost every night for about 1 month when I totally stopped. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. I did self-help CBT after the one month period. I had good results.

One day a person on the radio said if you can’t sleep, maybe you don’t need to … so don’t worry about it.
While I know there are a lot of very serious issues with sleep deprivation over a long period of time, I also think sometimes it’s OK to read quietly and maybe only sleep a few hours. Just don’t stress about it.
If your body doesn’t need sleep, you won’t sleep. Get up, do something quiet, try again later or the next night. If you eat healthy food, get good solid exercise during the day and feel well, it’s OK not to sleep solidly through the night every day.

I’d also recommend limiting caffeine, for at least 8 hrs before sleep as some folks are very sensitive. Also a cup of warm milk w/ a little added vanilla or carmel have been helpful as its Sleepytime Extra tea (camomile tea with valerian root). When combined after taking a hot bath, within about an hour as your body cools off, your melatonin rises and voila! sleepiness ensues..zzzzz

All good tips. I have been using 5HTP for about 3 years. So is my Dad and my sister. All on different doses. I increase my dose when I go overseas and no jet lag at all (with a 9 hours time difference).

What a timely article! I have been taking Zolpidem for many years and would like to get off it. I feel the best way for me is to go to a sleep specialist and learn about cognitive behavior.

My husband suffered with insomnia for years. We discovered that it was caused by antihistamines, especially Benedryl, and his usual diet. He has problems if he has too much caffeine, especially after noon, MSG and too much sugar before bedtime. She should try eliminating some of these after she gets off Ambien. Love your site!

I see no advice here that is new to me. I take Elavil and Ambien as a back up. None of the methods mentioned have worked for me. I have had some relief with guided meditation/hypnosis.

Both of your suggestions are excellent and represent how I eventually kicked Ambien a few years ago: gradually diminishing the dose and participating in cognitive sleep therapy, under the direction of a qualified sleep therapist.
Other tips include keeping the bedroom cool and dark and going to bed and getting up close to the same time each day, even on weekends.
I dispute any study which claims that stopping Ambien does not cause rebound insomnia. Even if it doesn’t physically cause it (which I think it does), you are so terrified of not sleeping without it that you can’t. It’s an awful drug.

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