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The joys and pitfalls of Ambien (Patient Perspective)

Updated on December 1, 2015

What is Ambien

I hope someone may find this hub helpful, but please note, I am NOT a doctor. I am a woman who has had brain surgery that resulted in multiple medical complications. The complications include but are not limited to: dementia, anteriograde amnesia, retrograde amnesia, confabulation, and insomnia. The only one of my diagnoses that medication can help with is insomnia, all of the rest are caused by physical damage that was done to my brain, the insomnia however can be treated using Ambien.

Ambien is a drug taken to help people sleep. There are two forms of Ambien, one is a fast acting medication to help someone fall asleep (like me) the second kind is Ambien CR which not only has the fast acting coating, it also has a second slower release layer that helps patients stay asleep. It is also known as Zolpidem, a hypnotic or sedative. It affects the brain and allows people like me with insomnia to reach a level of deep sleep on a consistent basis that we are unable to reach on our own. The medication requires a doctor's prescription and is usually only given in three month increments and those are only dispensed in monthly dosages.

The Good Points of Ambien From a Patient Perspective

Let me start by saying that I never wanted to be on medication, and have fought to stay off as many as humanly possible. This is not said lightly, nor am I completely against modern medicine. I have the greatest respect for modern medicine and without it I would not even be here to write. After a full crainiotomy that left me with a major complication of multiple mental disorders ranging from dementia, anxiety, depression, and insomnia I finally have accepted that my life will never again be "normal." I don't sleep well, which is to say, I don't sleep at all without help. When I don't get sleep, I process even worse than I do with sleep. Sleep is when the brain has time to process and it is imperative for survival.

Ambien allows me to sleep. This is a good thing. Ambien will put your mind into sleep even if you are still moving around and active. It gives me time to get the deep sleep that my brain requires. When I wake up the next day I am able to think more clearly and function in the best possible state for me. This makes life bearable for everyone around me.

Bad Points of Ambien from a Patient Perspective

My experience with Ambien, while beneficial is not without its side effects. I have been on Ambien long enough now that I would say I definitely need it in order to sleep at this point. I can work out daily, eat right, and even fall asleep some nights without it, but I cannot stay asleep without it. Once I wake up, it is too late to actually take it.

If I take the Ambien too late, I will not be able to get up with my daughter for school in the morning. Actually, I probably would be able to get up, and could physically drive; however, I would be in no mental state to do so. A side effect of Ambien is that people have been known to do various things while in this dream state and not remember them such as: driving, eating, going to clubs, having sex, and pretty much any physical activity that one can do. I have had extensive talks with my husband about this since I began taking Ambien. Here are two stories as examples:

I have to get up at 6 AM in order to get our daughter up and ready for school daily. This means that I have to take the medicine no later than 11 PM to make sure it is out of my system. (I also have coffee now but that is later in the hub.) I am a night owl by nature and my subconscious is not completely on board with the fact that I must now get to bed much earlier than I would like. There are more nights that I can count that I get out of bed and come into the living room to either eat, watch TV, or try to have an indepth conversation with my husband. I "remember" these conversations and interactions substantially different than what my husband remembers the next day. I remember being coherent, thoughtful, and engaged. He recalls irritation, frustration, and being completely and unable to communicate with me.

Another story was not actually me, but my mother in law. She also took Ambien, but she was single and living alone when she took it. In her memory, she was taking the medicine and going straight to sleep waking up the next day rested and relaxed. Yet, she kept running into friends who would tell her about how great of a time they had the night before or over the weekend. As she was taking a potent sleeping medication she figured they were just messing with her. Finally one of her friends who she knew was not a kidder said something about seeing her. When pushed to make sure, my mother in law found out that for the three months she was taking the medicine, she went out at least two nights a week, often three, came home, and got back in bed.

Coping Tactics

The biggest issue I have with Ambien is that I simply do not know what I am doing after I take it. I do know that I need it, I know that without it there is no way I can function on a daily basis. Therefore, I have learned ways to deal with it. There are some things that I have done that help me and they are below.

The first and most important thing is that I take the Ambien early enough in the evening to ensure that I can safely get up in the morning.

The second thing I have to do on a daily basis is make sure I have a reason to stay home. By this I mean that I have a young daughter and a husband, I make sure that I have solid reasons not to go out that will override any stupid decisions my subconscious wants to assert.

Third is caffeine in the morning. It is my experience that Ambien leaves me groggy and foggy in the morning. It is not the same feeling as when I try to talk to my husband at night, but I still don't like it. I try to have a cup of coffee as quickly as possible upon waking to make sure I have as much in my system before we leave for school as possible.

Finally is exercise. Exercise is my nemesis and I will be the first to admit that. I will probably end up writing a hub on it one day, but for now lets just say that I despise it. Exercise also helps in the AM to clear my mind the rest of the way and enables my rested mind to help me use the rest that I have gotten by taking the medicine.

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