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Ambien (Zolpidem) Side Effects, Withdrawal and FAQs

Ambien (zolpidem) is a powerful hypnotic sedative sleeping pill.
The FDA and other regulatory bodies recommend slow tapering after as little as one or two weeks of use. Ambien discontinuation may require milder sedatives to avoid heart palpitations and other possible health complications.
Ambien (zolpidem) is a powerful hypnotic, sedative, depressant drug that acts swiftly on the central nervous system to induce sleep by way of its “knockout” effect that induces unconsciousness. Some of the side effects of the drug can result in sleep disturbances, physical discomforts, mental distress, and in some instances bizarre and unpredictable reactions.

According to regulatory body recommendations in the US and the UK, the drug should only be prescribed for a very limited time to prevent addiction or dependence. The “knockout” effect diminishes over time, which can result in a prolongation of sleep deprivation and other negative consequences. ¹

Ambien crosses the placental barrier and should not be used by nursing mothers.

When using Ambien, other central nervous system (CNS) depressants including alcohol should be avoided due to their additive psychomotor impairments.
Coming off the drug without help or proper instruction can be especially difficult, as will be discussed further in the topics outlined below. Always thoroughly research a drug before starting or stopping a prescription.

What Is Ambien Used for?

Ambien is most frequently used in a therapeutic context for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Sleep deprivation can cause many health problems, including neurocognitive consequences.

Quite apart from the intended medical or therapeutic uses, Ambien has been used as a date-rape drug because of its fast onset and profound memory obfuscating characteristics. Ambien is also hard to detect on a drug test, and is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and easily dissolves in alcohol, making it easy to slip into another’s drink surreptitiously. The unsuspecting victim will not remember much, if any, of what has happened, making a court conviction against the rapist or other perpetrator much harder to obtain.

Ambien Alternative Names and Slang

Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo and Zolpimist are all trade names for the generic drug which is called zolpimed, also named zolpimed tartrate. Ambien CR and zolpimed ER are the time-release versions of this medication.

Ambien Side Effects

Ambien side effects can worsen over time so dramatically that physicians are strongly cautioned by the FDA in the US and by the counterpart of the FDA in the UK not to prescribe sleeping aids such as Ambien for more than a three-to four-week period at most. Recommended doses have also been lowered, due to new findings about the intense and sometimes bizarre side effects of Ambien, especially when taken at higher doses. Drug makers have been directed to put additional black box warnings on the packaging, indicating the risks of certain side effects of Ambien. ¹

Here are some of the side effects to be cautious of:

  • SUICIDAL IDEATION – note the FDA recommends prescribing the least amount possible to avoid intentional suicide.
  • SEVERE ANAPHYLACTIC AND ANAPHYLACTOID REACTIONS
  • ABNORMAL THINKING AND BEHAVIORAL CHANGES, i.e. hallucinations, sleep-driving, etc.
  • REBOUND INSOMNIA: Patients are prescribed Ambien most often as a fast acting sleep aid. After a short time, however, there is a lessening of the “knockout” effect, where the patient may awaken after an hour or two and be unable to fall back asleep.
  • VERTIGO: Dizziness, as in a sensation where the room is spinning, a common side effect of Ambien, which can produce an uncomfortable transition to a sleep state. Vertigo can also induce a disturbing waking sensation, which can occur at random times, especially for the extended release version, which may cause these effects during one’s next workday or while driving or operating machinery.
  • ATAXIA: A condition resembling drunkenness caused by a toxic reaction to medications like Ambien, presents as slurred speech, inability to control voluntary muscles, or an inability to walk without stumbling, difficulty holding or controlling objects in the hand, such as eating utensils, unable to control the body (see DATE RAPE information).
  • TACHYCARDIA: Racing heart even though at rest, also heart palpitations, or increased blood pressure.
  • URTICARIA:  Hives, raised itchy welts, rashes, can impact the airway which can also present as breathing difficulty.
  • HEADACHE
  • ABDOMINAL DISTURBANCES: These are common on Ambien including loss of appetite, diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, hiccups, acid reflux, and heartburn.
  • URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS: And, dryness of the vaginal walls are common side effects for women taking Ambien.
  • FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS: These can include sinusitis, throat infections, sore throat, chest pain, respiratory infection, fever, confusion, tinnitus, fatigue.
  • ASTHENIA: A sudden loss of physical strength or sudden sensation of overall weakness.
  • AMNESIA: Chunks of time may be missing entirely, or memories may be scrambled and partially obscured for a period of time.
  • SOMNAMBULISM: The phenomenon of combined wakefulness and sleep which presents as sleepwalking, sleep-driving, sleep-shopping, sleep-cooking, and so on, which the person will typically have no recollection of.  
  • DEPRESSION, WORSENED DEPRESSION
  • ANXIETY
  • MOOD SWINGS
  • BODY ACHES: Especially of the neck, back, arthralgia (aching joints), myalgia (aching muscle or groups of muscles).  
  • NIGHTMARES

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

Ambien is a drug that may require inpatient care for proper recovery and safe tapering. Full monitoring of someone who is experiencing Ambien withdrawals is highly recommended, sometimes requiring 24/7 observation.

Withdrawal effects include, and are not limited to:

  • SEIZURES
  • REBOUND INSOMNIA
  • PANIC ATTACKS
  • CRYING SPELLS
  • HEART PALPITATIONS
  • TACHYCARDIA
  • STOMACH CRAMPS
  • VOMITING/NAUSEA
  • HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
  • DEPRESSION
  • ANXIETY
  • SHAKING
  • TREMORS
  • FATIGUE
  • LIGHTHEADEDNESS
  • FEVER
  • CRAMPS

Discontinuing/Quitting Ambien

One should not continue taking Ambien for longer than is recommended in medical literature and the FDA label. ¹

Even after as little as a week or two, withdrawals can emerge and can be problematic. Always seek competent medical advice, guidance and support for monitoring the process of tapering off Ambien safely.

Ambien FAQs

There is much to learn about a drug that is as unpredictable and powerful as Ambien. Some of the most common questions are covered briefly below. We can provide more information by request on any of these or other important topics.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need for Ambien? How Long Does Ambien Last?

Do not take Ambien if you are not able to stay at rest for at least seven or eight hours after taking the drug, as the sedating effects will last at least that long, and can sometimes linger beyond that time frame, into the next day.

Ambien has a very short half-life of only one to two hours. The active ingredient in Ambien, zolpidem, will reach peak blood levels, after an exceptionally short time, approximately thirty minutes. It is strongly recommended to take Ambien only immediately prior to retiring.

The reason it is so hard to detect Ambien on a drug test is that the drug is unlikely to show up as present in the body after as short a time as one or two days. A urine test may read positive if done within one or two days; however, testing done on a hair sample could be a more reliable method, sometimes showing a positive reading for up to or longer than 90 days.

Is Ambien a Benzodiazepine?

No. Ambien is classified as a hypnotic, depressant, or sedative. Benzodiazepines are described as tranquilizers and have a sedating effect. They do share some but not all of the same side effects. Both Ambien and benzos are associated with a risk for abuse because of their euphoric effects.

Benzodiazepine drugs are also sometimes prescribed for insomnia, but these two types of drugs act on the central nervous system and brain in different ways. There are certain GABA receptors that Ambien acts on such as the alpha-1 subclass, where benzodiazepines act upon subunits of the GABA alpha-1, alpha-2, alpha-3 and other classes. The fine wiring of the brain is a complex matter. We can observe that Ambien and benzodiazepines are similar, but not entirely the same in the effects produced. For instance, both benzodiazepines and Ambien affect sleep, but the benzodiazepine class additionally produces anti-anxiety effects.²

Treatment for Ambien Abuse and Addiction

There is high risk in acquiring a dependency on sleeping aids such as Ambien as they are habit-forming.  One of the common side effects of the drug is interrupted sleep, even when  taking the drug as prescribed, which may lead to taking additional doses, or taking it for a longer time than is recommended. Impaired memory is another factor that can lead to dependence, i.e. not remembering if or when one took the drug, leading to over use.

Since one of the withdrawal effects of Ambien is rebound insomnia, this problem of lack of sleep can become a problematic, repeating loop, especially without proper protocols in place for tapering. There are many reasons one may decide to stop taking a drug like Ambien. The side effects of the drug can be debilitating to the extreme and this can happen after a relatively short time of taking the drug.

However, it is possible to find the help that is needed for safely tapering from Ambien. At the Alternative to Meds Center, we are committed to finding the initial problems with sleep that led to prescribing a sleeping pill in the first place. We have much information to offer on request about the comprehensive treatments available in our program for recovering from insomnia, and from the negative effects that were caused or aggravated by dependence on sleeping aids.

A healthy vibrant state includes being able to sleep soundly and restfully, which provides adequate energy for successful day to day living. The Alternative to Meds Center can provide the means to help you overcome the challenges that may have impacted your life negatively. There is hope for safe recovery, restored health and optimal living without further dependence on drugs like Ambien.


This content has been reviewed, and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.

Dr. Michael Loes is board certified in Internal Medicine , Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally he is a well published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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