Ambien (zolpidem) is a sedative or hypnotic, which works by targeting chemical imbalances in the brain. It is most often used to treat insomnia and helps individuals fall asleep shortly after taking the tablet. There is also an extended-release form called Ambien CR, which has a first layer that dissolves quickly to help one fall asleep and a second layer that dissolves more slowly to help you stay asleep. Your health care practitioner will decide which kind of Ambien is the best fit for you.

Use and Dosage

Individuals should take the lowest effective dose for them. It is further recommended that women start with a dosage of 5 mg and men with 10 mg, taken once per night right before bed, with at least 7-8 hours before awakening. If an initial dosage of 5 mg proves ineffective, it can be increased by 5 more mg; however, the total dose of Ambien should not exceed 10 mg once daily taken right before bedtime.

Elderly and/or handicapped individuals may react more sensitively to the effects of zolpidem tartrate found in the Ambien and those with mild to moderate hepatic impairment do not clear the drug as quickly as most others—it is recommended that these patients only take 5 mg. And those with severe hepatic impairment shouldn’t take Ambien at all, as it may cause or contribute to encephalopathy.

Side Effects of Ambien

This medication may make one dizzy or sleepy during the day, but does not typically cause more severe side effects. Still, it is important to be aware of possible unwanted and serious effects that require an immediate conversation with your doctor, such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Changes in mood
  • Worsening depression
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety

Select individuals on Ambien have also sleepwalked, prepared or eaten food, made phone calls, and even gotten out of bed and driven while still partly asleep (sleep-driving)—but they do not typically remember doing so. Though this is rare, it does happen, and it can pose a danger to the individual and those around him. Therefore, if you have reason to believe you’ve done any of the aforementioned activities after taking Ambien, you should talk to your doctor immediately. Furthermore, the risk of engaging in these behaviors is increased in those who drink alcohol or other medications that makes you drowsy. You should also seek medical attention if you notice signs of a serious allergic reaction, which may include itching or swelling, a rash, severe dizziness, and trouble breathing.

Before Taking Ambien…

It’s important you take precautionary measures anytime you’re considering a new medication. Before you start taking Ambien, you should first…

  • Talk to your doctor about existing allergies, as this product may contain inactive ingredients that can cause allergic reactions or other issues.
  • Discuss your medical history, especially if you have a personal or family history of kidney disease, liver disease, mental or mood problems (e.g., depression), substance use disorder, sleepwalking, lung or breathing problems, or a muscle disease called myasthenia gravis.
  • Consider your age, which may cause sensitivity to certain side effects. Children, for example, may be more sensitive to dizziness and hallucinations, while older adults may be more sensitive to confusion, unsteadiness, excessive drowsiness, and dizziness, (which can increase one’s risk of falling and injuring him or herself).
  • Understand all of the drug’s effects, as they can last even after waking. For example, if you didn’t get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep or you combined it with other medicines that also make you sleepy, you may feel okay but aren’t alert enough to drive. You need to fully understand the effects and how other factors tie into the effects.