A new study may help explain why some people have unusual side effects when taking the sleep aid zolpidem – also known as Ambien.
Reuters reports that the drug can shut down brain circuits that normally inhibit some activity. This may release the brakes on other brain circuits while you sleep.
“In a way, Ambien is awakening other circuits because the brakes are not in place," study co-author Molly Huntsman told Reuters. “It's a population of neurons that is normally in place to stop activity. We find what Ambien does is inhibit their function to inhibit.”
Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic that is FDA-approved for the short-term treatment of insomnia in adults. The most common side effects include drowsiness and dizziness.
But other unusual side effects can occur. In 2007 the FDA requested changes to the product labeling of all sedative-hypnotics.
One of the proposed changes was to include a warning about the risk of “complex sleep-related behaviors.” Examples include sleepwalking and sleep eating. Rare cases of sleep driving also have been reported.
The FDA-approved Medication Guide for Ambien now states that, “You may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night.”
But why do these unusual side effects only occur in some people? Huntsman suggests that something may have happened to their brain circuitry.
It is possible that a previous experience changed their brain receptors. This could affect how they respond to a drug like Ambien.
“A lot of things can change your brain chemistry - stress, alcohol use," Huntsman told Reuters.
The AASM offers these Guidelines for Taking Sleep Medications. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have any other questions about taking sleeping pills.
You also should ask your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. It is a safe and effective treatment option.
Get help for insomnia at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.