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Stopping Zolpidem (Ambien) for Insomnia Can Be Challenging

Have you ever had trouble getting a good night's sleep? Who hasn't? That's why sleeping pills are so popular. But stopping zolpidem can be a challenge.
Stopping Zolpidem (Ambien) for Insomnia Can Be Challenging
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Tens of millions of Americans have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. Based on comments we have read on this website, we would have to say that a lot of people rely on zolpidem to get to sleep. If they try to sleep without it, they may find that their insomnia returns with a vengeance. Stopping zolpidem may be challenging.

The official prescribing information states:

“Withdrawal Effects: Symptoms may occur with rapid dose reduction or discontinuation.”

“There have been reports of withdrawal signs and symptoms following the rapid dose decrease or abrupt discontinuation of zolpidem. Monitor patients for tolerance, abuse, and dependence.”

A Reader Asks About Stopping Zolpidem:

Q. My doctor wants me to stop taking zolpidem after years on the drug. Without it, I cannot sleep. I am at my wits’ end. What else can I do?

A. The official prescribing information for zolpidem (Ambien) states that this sleeping pill is for “short-term treatment of insomnia.” Stopping zolpidem suddenly after years on the drug could lead to rebound sleeping difficulties. Your physician should help you by prescribing a very gradual decrease in dose.

Not Everyone Experiences Withdrawal:

Fran reports that she had relatively little trouble, but it’s early days for her:

“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 doctor for a new prescription. I decided this was the time to stop. I cut my remaining 4 pills so that they were roughly 2.5 mg and took those. I was able to get a good night’s sleep on half my usual dose.

“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. I had good energy today, though there were times I wanted to take a nap.

“At this point, I am off zolpidem and plan to stay off. Other than difficulty sleeping, I haven’t had any discernible withdrawal symptoms.”

Montanna has a different story:

“I have been taking zolpidem for four years. I was prescribed the 10 mg dose. I would stretch out the 30-count dosage to four months by breaking the pill in half. That meant I would only use about five 10 mg pills a month.

“There were times when I would force myself to stop taking zolpidem for up to two weeks. My thought was this would protect me from getting addicted.

“After two years I started getting side effects. At first I didn’t connect the brain fog, belching and fatigue to zolpidem. I continued using the drug, but in 2016 I got serious abdominal pain along with diarrhea.

“The pains have come and gone throughout the past years but now it is continuous. I have been into fitness all my life. I am a self-motivated body builder. I have managed health clubs and nutrition stores. Taking good care of my body has always been a priority. My doctors have been uninterested in helping me with the damn zolpidem.

“After visiting this website, I knew I had found the culprit! I stopped taking the drug that night! For the next eight days I experienced withdrawal symptoms. The fifth day was the worst! I made it through and do believe the drug is out of my system. It has been ten days since I stopped taking Zolpidem. I still have abdominal pain, gas, low energy, low appetite, light fevers, and chills.”

Stopping Zolpidem:

No one should ever stop taking zolpidem suddenly. And no one should ever discontinue any drug without medical supervision. Sadly, neither the drug company nor the FDA provide meaningful guidelines about how to accomplish this challenging task.

Readers have pointed to a British website with detailed instructions about getting off benzodiazepines. There is even some information about zolpidem.

You can learn more about this website and the Ashton Manual in our article about clonazepam withdrawal. Again, this must be a doctor-supervised process.

Other Ways to Deal with Insomnia:

There are many other ways to deal with insomnia, including targeted cognitive behavioral therapy, herbal remedies such as ashwagandha, chamomile, valerian or passionflower, and supplements such as 5-HTP, tryptophan or melatonin. To learn more about these and other nondrug approaches, you may want to read our online resource, Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. You can find it in our Health eGuide section.

Share your own experience with zolpidem in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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