“To sleep, perchance to dream…,” Hamlet wondered in his famous To Be or Not to Be soliloquy.
If he lived in modern times, Hamlet would probably pop an ambien and call it a night if he desired to sleep. This popular sleeping aid is gaining quite a bit of attention in the mainstream celebrity world- it’s use amongst celebs is almost as ubiquitous as their active Twitter accounts.
Jay-Z along with Alicia Keys raps about it in Empire State of Mind in reference to partying in NYC- “the city never sleeps, better slip you an ambien”; John Mayer tweets about his personal use and sings about it in Heartbreak Warfare; Jimmy Fallon jokes about it on his late-night talk show; and Tiger Woods probably takes it on nights before playing in the majors. Why not? He takes it for crazy ambien sex with one of his many former mistresses. You probably remember that infamous night he crashed his SUV which led to the unraveling of his secret lifestyle- yep, he was driving under the influence of ambien.
Ambien is a sedative or hypnotic prescription medication that knocks you out like a left hook from Manny Pacquiao. It was first approved by the FDA in 1992 for the short-term treatment of insomnia. But it didn’t gain widespread use until the generics (zolpidem) came out in 2007. Although not approved for treatment of chronic insomnia, it is not uncommon for doctors to prescribe it for long-term use.
Common side-effects of ambien are drowsiness, impaired motor function, and a drugged feeling. But more interestingly, side-effects may also include hallucinations, amnesia, euphoria, increased appetite and libido, and extroversion in social settings. And these effects may perhaps be the reason behind the trend in ambien misuse for recreational purposes. There are also many documented reports of ambien-related bizarre behavior, ie. people cleaning out their fridge from sleep-eating, politicians involuntarily joining the DUI club from sleep-driving, and wives engaging in unusual sexual behavior of which they have no recollection.
Before the days, or nights, of ambien, the common sleeping pills were the benzos (xanax, valium, ativan) and the barbiturates. These medications are far more dangerous than ambien. They are addictive and lethal in overdoses. Guess which prescription meds were found in Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, and Heath Ledger when they prematurely died?
Ambien is potentially lethal in an overdose since it’s a sedative, especially if combined with alcohol. The cause of death is cessation of breathing. Fortunately, there aren’t too many documented cases, if any, of death primarily by ambien overdose. In my own clinical experience, I haven’t seen any yet.
Hamlet was contemplating suicide in his soliloquy- “for in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” If he were to take a large dose of ambien, he would be at some risk of a fatal overdose. But he’s more likely to hallucinate and engage in an ongoing conversation with the skull until he falls soundly asleep, and not remember a thing the following morning.