Ambien is a popular prescription medication mainly used to treat insomnia and sleep problems. It has also been used “off-label” to lessen headache pain from migraines and ease anxiety and tension. However, its primary use is in treating sleep-related disorders, such as insomnia.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, and it affects about 30 percent of adults. The Mayo Clinic states that it is marked by the problems of getting and staying asleep and sleeping as long as you want into the morning. Sleep disorders can have a major effect on your health and well-being. A sound sleep can refresh you, so you feel refreshed when you wake, and it can also boost health and stave off disease.
Insomnia Can Be Caused By Various Conditions In A Person’s Life, Both Psychological And Physical. The Most Commonly Reported Are:
- Shift work
- Jet lag
- Caring for another person in the house
- Not enough exercise
- The bedroom is too hot or too cold.
Mental health disorders also play a role in insomnia. People struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar depression, or schizophrenia can be plagued by insomnia. Some physical ailments can cause insomnia, such as:
- Chronic pain
- Sleep apnea
- Overactive thyroid
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (commonly called COPD)
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
Insomnia can also be caused by stress, tension, and anxiety, all of which can cause a headache.
How Does Ambien Work?
Ambien works in the brain similar to how other CNS depressants work. It mainly affects the naturally-occurring neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Ambien binds to GABA receptors in the central nervous system to increase the effectiveness of the neurotransmitter. GABA’s primary responsibility is to regulate nervous system excitability and help you calm down and relax when it’s time for bed.
As a CNS depressant, Ambien can cause an intoxicated feeling and possibly euphoria. When it is misused or abused, Ambien can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, slurred speech, loss of motor control, and other symptoms that appear as if the person is drunk.
Ambien has a short half-life meaning it wears off in a few hours, as opposed to other sleep aids.
Side Effects Of Ambien
Ambien Comes With A Long List Of Side Effects, Not All Of Which You Might Feel.
- Daytime drowsiness
- Balance problems
- Vision problems
- Stuffy nose
- Nasal irritation
- Sore throat
- Dry mouth
- Stomach ache
- Muscle pain
- Loss of coordination
- “Drugged” feeling
Do Other Drugs Affect How Ambien Work?
Ambien may interact with other types of drugs. It is best to check with your doctor if you are taking any of the substances listed below to be sure you will not experience adverse effects. It is essential to be vigilant when taking any prescription medication, and especially with sleep aids, like Ambien, to be sure you do not combine them with other substances, which can adversely affect you.
Below Is A List Of Substances To Avoid Using When Taking Ambien:
- Central nervous system depressants, such as:
- Cold medicine
- Pain medicine (OTC drugs or prescription opioids)
- Muscle relaxants
- Anti-seizure medication
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Ketoconazole, a medication for certain skin conditions like athlete’s foot, jock itch, or ringworm
- Chlorpromazine, a medication for psychotic disorders in adults
- Itraconazole, an antifungal medication
- Rifampin, an antibiotic used to prevent and treat tuberculosis
Unusual Behavior Associated With Ambien
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a “boxed warning” for Ambien and the other z-drugs to alert users of unusual behavior and dangers of using Ambien. The FDA warning states, “serious injuries have happened with certain common prescription insomnia medicines because of sleep behaviors, including sleepwalking, sleep driving, and engaging in other activities while not fully awake.
“These complex sleep behaviors have also resulted in deaths. These behaviors appear to be more common with eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist) than other prescription medicines used for sleep.”
In addition, the FDA has recommended that the prescription doses be lowered due to the possibility that the person taking it could feel “high” or “drunk” the next morning. Along with that warning, the federal agency also states that complex sleep-related behaviors can happen when an individual taking the drug gets out of bed while not fully awake and engages in activities like walking around, driving a vehicle, preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or engaging in sex, completely unaware of doing it. By lowering the dose, the risk of next-morning impairment and/or sleep-related behaviors decreases.
If it is mentioned to you that you performed any of the above complex behaviors or appeared drunk or high in the morning, please consult with your prescribing physician about lowering the dose or trying a new medication. Your health and safety are vital.
Primary And Other Uses For Ambien
Ambien is primarily used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. However, it is also used by some people to lessen headache pain or decrease anxiety and stress. Due to its relaxation characteristics, Ambien and its generic equivalent zolpidem are sometimes taken to ease people suffering from a migraine or a strong headache to sleep, thereby easing the symptoms of the headache. It does not get rid of the headache and is not meant to treat headaches.
There are some indications that people have used Ambien to ease anxiety and stress. As a CNS depressant, Ambien has the ability to make you feel relaxed, thus, causing you to feel less anxious and less stressed. Its primary use is not to treat anxiety or stress.
Alternatives To Ambien
There are alternatives to consider if you do not feel comfortable taking a z-drug to get and stay asleep. A report from American Family Physician relays options to promote sleep initiation and sleep maintenance. Some of these are:
- Get more exercise during the day and evening.
- Change your bedtime routine to encourage sleep, such as banning cell phones and TVs from the bedroom.
- Take a warm shower before bed.
- Learn about relaxation techniques and practice them before bed.
- Learn about cognitive behavioral therapy and practice it when needed.
- Try alternative sleep aid like a product with melatonin, which can ease you into sleep without the possible side effects of Ambien.
Ambien Addiction And Treatment
Ambien addiction can occur if you misuse or abuse the medication. If the drug is taken for longer than prescribed, your body may become tolerant to it, thus needing more of the drug to achieve the same benefits as before. Chemical dependency is also a possibility for people using Ambien. Dependency is known when you quit taking the drug and feel the effects of withdrawal. Some of these are:
- Rebound insomnia
- Memory loss
The safest way to stop misusing Ambien is medical detox, which can be conducted at hospitals, addiction treatment centers, and detox centers. Medical detox is supervised 24/7 to ensure the individual is as comfortable as possible while their body undergoes the process of ridding all toxins. Physical and psychological symptoms are tended to by caring and attentive licensed and accredited staff.
What Else Is Ambien Used For Other Than Sleep?
Ambien has been used to ease anxiety, tension, and headaches, even though it is not prescribed for this.
Does Ambien Help Anxiety?
Ambien can help ease anxiety, but it is not a prescribed drug for anxiety. If you feel anxious all the time, it is best to talk to your doctor about medication or alternatives to drugs that can help.
How Well Does Ambien Work For Headaches?
Ambien helps people fall asleep and stay asleep, which can ease headache pain. Its relaxing properties ease anxiety and tension, which can be a cause of headaches and migraines. Using Ambien as a headache reliever is not recommended. However, using it may produce an indirect and unintentional result of less headache pain.