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Don't let Ambien or other insomnia drugs send you to the ER

Don’t let Ambien or other insomnia drugs send you to the ER

Emergency-room visits stemming from insomnia drugs containing zolpidem, such as Ambien, Edluar, and Zolpimist rose sharply in recent years, especially among women, according to a new report out this week. Adverse reactions to the pills rose nearly 220 percent from 6,111 visits in 2005 to 19,487 in 2010. Although zolpidem is an effective insomnia treatment, its risks are troubling. The drug can interact with other medications and alcohol–a third of ER visits were the result of mixing zolpidem with other drugs. And, it can also cause next-day drowsiness, dizziness and dependency, and even worsen your sleeping problems if taken too frequently. Memory lapses, hallucinations, and some other bizarre behaviors such as sleepwalking, sleep-driving, and sleep-eating have also been reported.

For more on improving your quality of sleep, read about the secrets of good sleepers and our Best Buy Drugs advice for sleep problems.

Our advice: If you have insomnia, first try to improve your sleep habits. In our recent online survey, “good sleepers”–people who reported few or no sleep difficulties over the past 30 days–were more likely to exercise during the day, unwind for 30 minutes before bed, go to bed and wake up at a set time, and engage in sexual activity before bedtime. For problem sleepers, regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises helped a lot.

If nondrug measures aren’t working, it may be time to consider a sleep aid. For a short-term sleep problem, our Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug recommendation is to first try a nonprescription sleep drug that contains diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy, Sominex, Unisom and generic). If after a few nights, you’re not back on track and want to try something else, talk with your doctor about trying a low dose of zolpidem (Ambien and generic), but make sure your doctor knows about all other medications you’re taking and previous adverse reactions you’ve had. Even then, use caution, and report any worrisome side effects to your doctor immediately. And, with use of any sleeping medication, be sure to keep a night light on to help prevent falls.

Emergency department visits for adverse reactions involving the insomnia medication zolpidem [The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 5/1/13]

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