Substance Use

How Does Ambien Affect Your Sleep?

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What to Know About Ambien Sleep Effects

Ambien, a widely prescribed medication for treating insomnia, belongs to a class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. (1) Its primary ingredient, zolpidem, acts on the central nervous system to enhance the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). By doing so, Ambien induces a calming effect that helps initiate sleep and maintain it throughout the night.

While this drug can effectively address certain sleep disturbances and is used as sleep medicine, its impact on sleep quality can vary. The FDA-approved medication primarily targets sleep initiation, helping individuals fall asleep faster. (1)

Understanding the good and bad effects of Ambien on sleep is crucial for healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans to individual needs and minimize the risk of dependency or adverse outcomes.

In addition to its sedative properties, its impact on sleep is intricately connected to its potential side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired coordination. (1)

These worsening effects highlight the importance of using Ambien as a controlled substance, considering the delicate balance between its benefits in promoting sleep initiation and the potential risks associated with prolonged or inappropriate use.

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What Is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem, a sedative-hypnotic medication used to treat insomnia. Zolpidem, zaleplon (brand name Sonata), and eszopiclone (brand name Lunesta) are generic non-benzodiazepine prescription medications known as “Z-drugs.” (2)

All three are CNS depressants categorized as schedule IV drugs, which means they have the potential for abuse and dependence. (1)

Ambien is a Food and Drug Administration-approved sleep medication intended for short-term use only. Long-term use of this drug or any other Z-drug can lead to serious side effects and health complications, including the following. (3)


People who take it for extended periods may develop a dependency on the drug. They’ll need to keep taking the drug to feel normal and avoid withdrawal symptoms.


Over time, people who take lower doses may build a tolerance to the drug and need to take larger doses to get the same effect.


People dependent may also develop an addiction to the drug, characterized by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences.

What Are the Side Effects of Taking Ambien?

There are many possible side effects from taking prescription drugs for sleep problems. Side effects can be short or long-term and can occur throughout the night, the next day, or potentially long-term. Side effects can be worse when taking Ambien with other CNS depressants, such as opioids, alcohol, and other Z-drugs. (3)

Side Effects of Ambien

After taking the drug, some people may experience the following: (3)

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Drug interactions
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep driving (driving while not fully awake)
  • Inability to sleep
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Stomach cramps
  • Unusual dreams

Side Effects of Ambien the Next Day

You should be aware of the potential next-day side effects. Some common side effects include: (4)

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Allergic reactions
  • Behavior changes
  • Dizziness
  • Impairment
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Memory loss
  • Problems with coordination

How Does Ambien Work?

This drug works by depressing the central nervous system (CNS) and slowing down brain activity, making you sleepy. The medication is thought to work by binding to GABA receptors in the brain and increasing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA. This action results in a sedative effect, activating sleep behaviors. (5)

There are two types of Ambien: fast-acting and Ambien CR (extended-release). The fast-acting type helps you fall asleep, while the extended-release has two layers. The first layer helps you fall asleep quickly, while the second layer increases sleeping time. (5)

Does Ambien Really Have Beneficial Sleep Effects?

As a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic, it works by slowing down brain activity, creating a calming effect that facilitates the onset and maintenance of sleep. (6) Many individuals find the drug to be effective in addressing sleep-related challenges, providing a potential solution to those wrestling with the frustration of nighttime restlessness.

While Ambien can indeed be beneficial for improving sleep initiation, it’s crucial to be aware of potential side effects and associated risks. It is generally well-tolerated, but like any medication, it comes with considerations. 

Some people might experience side effects that impact their sleep, such as drowsiness, dizziness, or impaired coordination. These effects underscore the importance of using this drug responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Knowing more about the long-term effects of Ambien on sleep quality is an evolving aspect of ongoing research. While the medication is known for its efficacy in helping individuals fall asleep faster, its influence on the overall structure and quality of sleep remains a subject of scientific exploration.

This underscores the importance of open communication with healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans based on individual needs and minimize the potential risks associated with prolonged use. In essence, this drug can have beneficial sleep effects, but it’s crucial to approach its usage with awareness, caution, and professional guidance.

How Does Ambien Affect Your Sleep?

Ambien is intended to directly impact the sleep cycle by helping people fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. It can help people with insomnia get the restful sleep they need.

Like many other sleep aids, Ambien is a short-acting medication, and the effects typically last four to six hours. This means people who take it may wake up a few hours after taking the medication, which can lead to difficulty falling asleep again.

However, the effects may last longer depending on the dose and individual, and it’s recommended to take the drug 7-8 hours before your planned time of awakening.

The drug has similar effects to melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Ambien and melatonin both work by depressing the central nervous system, leading to drowsiness and sleep. (7) (8)

Can You Combine Ambien With Other Sleeping Pills?

When taken with other substances, such as benzodiazepines, opioid painkillers, marijuana, or alcohol, it can cause cognitive and psychological side effects. Combining Ambien with any other substance is not recommended, especially if you’re not under the care of a sleep specialist. (9)

If your healthcare provider prescribes Ambien for you, tell them about any other medications or substances you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and illegal drugs. Drugs and substances, even herbal preparations, may interact and cause unintended side effects that can be serious and even life-threatening.

Differences Between Insomnia and Sleep Apnea

Understanding the distinctions between insomnia and sleep apnea is essential for accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment. (10)

Nature of the Disorders

  • Insomnia: Primarily a disorder of sleep initiation, maintenance, or quality. Individuals with insomnia may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or experience restorative sleep, even when the opportunity is present.
  • Sleep Apnea: Characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to intermittent awakenings. The focus here is on respiratory disruptions, impacting the overall quality of sleep.

Underlying Causes

  • Insomnia: Often linked to psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Lifestyle factors, irregular sleep schedules, and certain medications can contribute. (10)
  • Sleep Apnea: Primarily associated with physical factors, such as airway obstruction or central nervous system dysfunction. Obesity, anatomical issues, and age can also increase the risk of sleep apnea. (10)


  • Insomnia: Complaints typically revolve around difficulty falling or staying asleep, daytime fatigue, irritability, and impaired concentration. Individuals may experience these symptoms despite having an adequate opportunity for sleep. (10)
  • Sleep Apnea: Symptoms include loud snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and difficulty staying awake while driving or during other daytime activities. (10)

Diagnostic Tools

  • Insomnia: Diagnosis often relies on a clinical evaluation, including a detailed sleep history. Polysomnography or sleep studies may be conducted in specific cases.
  • Sleep Apnea: Diagnosed through sleep studies, including polysomnography. These studies monitor various physiological parameters during sleep, such as breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and heart rate.

Treatment Approaches

  • Insomnia: Treatment involves a combination of non-pharmacologic approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), sleep hygiene improvements, and, if necessary, pharmacological interventions.
  • Sleep Apnea: Treatment options include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, lifestyle modifications (weight loss, positional therapy), dental devices, surgery (in severe cases), and addressing underlying health conditions.

Impact on Daily Functioning

  • Insomnia: Often leads to impaired cognitive function, mood disturbances, and reduced quality of life. Daytime impairment is a direct result of inadequate or disrupted sleep. (10)
  • Sleep Apnea: Associated with similar daytime impairments due to disrupted sleep patterns but is distinct in its physiological impact, particularly on cardiovascular health. (10)

    Current Treatment of Insomnia

    The current treatment of insomnia encompasses a range of approaches to address this common sleep disorder. Initially, nonpharmacologic methods are often recommended as the first line of treatment.

    Non-Pharmacologic Approaches

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) stands out as a foundational non-pharmacologic method for treating insomnia. (11) This evidence-based approach focuses on modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with sleep.

    A crucial component of CBT-I is the emphasis on improving sleep hygiene, advocating for the maintenance of consistent sleep schedules, and fostering a comfortable sleep environment. (11

    This includes establishing a regular bedtime routine and, minimizing environmental disruptions, creating an optimal setting for restful sleep. Additionally, CBT-I equips individuals with effective relaxation techniques and stress-coping strategies. (11

    By addressing the underlying psychological and behavioral contributors to insomnia, CBT-I offers a comprehensive and personalized approach to improving sleep quality.

    Medication Option

    For individuals requiring pharmacological intervention, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics emerge as a preferred choice over traditional benzodiazepines in the treatment of insomnia. Medications such as zolpidem and eszopiclone specifically target certain brain receptors to induce sleep, effectively aiding both sleep initiation and maintenance. (12) (13)

    Notably, these non-benzodiazepine options are considered safer for short-term use due to their lower risk of dependency and tolerance development. The decision to incorporate medication into the treatment plan is typically based on an individual’s specific needs, the severity of insomnia, and the potential for coexisting conditions.

    Additional Medications

    Beyond the commonly prescribed non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, other medications may complement insomnia treatment. Melatonin agonists, exemplified by ramelteon, act on melatonin receptors to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, promoting a more natural onset of sleep. Additionally, sedating antidepressants, like trazodone, are sometimes prescribed to aid in sleep.

    These medications are selected based on a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s unique circumstances, considering factors such as:

    • The nature of insomnia
    • Coexisting medical conditions
    • Potential interactions with other medications

    The inclusion of additional medications aims to address specific aspects of insomnia and tailor the treatment plan to the individual’s needs.

    Current Treatment of Sleep Apnea

    The current treatment of sleep apnea involves a diverse array of interventions aimed at alleviating symptoms and improving overall sleep quality. Similar to insomnia, the initial focus is often on nonpharmacologic methods, serving as the first line of treatment.

    Non-Pharmacologic Approaches

    1. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy: (14)
      • Utilizes a machine delivering a continuous stream of air through a mask.
      • Prevents airway collapse, reducing the frequency of breathing interruptions during sleep.
    2. Alternative Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) Devices:
      • Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) and Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV).
      • Adjusts air pressure levels based on breathing patterns, enhancing comfort and adherence.
    3. Lifestyle Modifications:
      • Weight loss, particularly in cases of obesity, to reduce excess tissue contributing to airway obstruction.
      • Avoidance of alcohol and sedatives, especially close to bedtime, to prevent muscle relaxation in the airway.
    4. Positional Therapy:
      • Encourages specific sleeping positions to minimize airway obstruction.
    5. Dental Devices: (15)
      • Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) or Tongue-Retaining Devices.
      • Repositions the jaw and tongue to maintain an open airway during sleep.
    6. Surgical Options (Reserved for Severe Cases):
      • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), Genioglossus Advancement (GA), or Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA).
      • Addresses anatomical factors contributing to airway constriction.

    Similar to insomnia, a comprehensive and personalized approach is crucial in tailoring the treatment plan to individual needs, ensuring effective management of sleep apnea.

    Is Ambien Addiction Common?

    The potential for dependence on this commonly prescribed sleep aid raises concerns about its misuse and addiction. Dependence can manifest in as little as two weeks of regular use, where an individual relies on the medication to feel normal, experiences intense cravings, and continues usage despite negative consequences. (16)

    Ambien dependence involves a physical reliance on the drug, and abrupt cessation may lead to withdrawal symptoms, emphasizing the importance of careful monitoring and medical guidance during discontinuation.

    While addiction to Ambien is not as prevalent as dependence, it remains a genuine concern. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior, where individuals may prioritize obtaining and using the drug over other aspects of their lives.

    In some cases, individuals with addiction may escalate their usage by taking higher doses or using it more frequently than prescribed, indicative of a loss of control over their drug consumption.

    Several factors contribute to the risk of Ambien addiction, including a history of substance abuse, concurrent mental health conditions, and prolonged or improper use. Monitoring individuals closely for signs of dependence or addiction is crucial during Ambien treatment, and healthcare providers play a pivotal role in assessing the appropriateness of continued usage.

    Early intervention, awareness of potential risk factors, and a comprehensive approach to sleep disorder management are essential in mitigating the risk of addiction.

    Signs and Symptoms of Ambien Addiction

    Addiction may be challenging to identify at first, as it often starts with a legitimate need for the drug.

    However, some warning signs may indicate someone is struggling with an Ambien addiction, including: (17)

    1. Cravings: Intense and escalating desire for the drug, often to the detriment of other life aspects. Cravings may become more pronounced over time, reflecting a growing dependence.
    2. Deviation from Prescribed Usage: Taking it more frequently than directed or experimenting with higher doses in an attempt to heighten its sedative effects. This pattern commonly emerges as tolerance builds, leading to an escalating cycle of dependence.
    3. Relapse After Quitting: Recurring use after attempts to quit indicates difficulty maintaining abstinence and suggests a potential loss of control over drug consumption.
    4. Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences: Persistence in taking Ambien despite negative outcomes, such as interference with daily functioning, strained relationships, or compromised overall well-being. Reflects a diminishing ability to weigh negative outcomes against perceived benefits.
    5. Withdrawal Symptoms: Experience withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation, including heightened anxiety, insomnia, agitation, and other adverse effects. These symptoms indicate the development of physical and psychological dependence.
    6. Prioritizing Ambien Over Obligations: Neglecting responsibilities at work or home, withdrawing from social engagements, or forsaking recreational pursuits to obtain and use the drug. Highlights the prioritization of the drug over essential life aspects.

    What Should You Do if You’re Dependent on Ambien for Sleep?

    Ambien has been proven effective in individuals having trouble sleeping. However, it can quickly become habit-forming and lead to severe side effects. It’s essential to be aware of these before starting any kind of sleep medication.

    If you think you’re addicted to Ambien, many therapies and treatments can help you. Zinnia Health offers a wide range of addiction treatment services to help you on your journey to recovery, including:

    • Medical detox
    • Inpatient treatment
    • Outpatient treatment
    • Partial hospitalization programs
    • Intensive outpatient programs

    Have A Better Night’s Sleep

    Treatment interventions, ranging from non-pharmacologic approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) to carefully monitored medication regimens, offer a spectrum of solutions to address sleep disorders. CBT-I emphasizes modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with sleep and provides a holistic and personalized approach.

    On the other hand, medications such as non-benzodiazepine hypnotics can be effective when prescribed judiciously and monitored closely. Regular evaluation by healthcare professionals, open communication between patients and providers, and a commitment to exploring non-pharmacologic options whenever possible contribute to a more nuanced and effective treatment approach.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with an Ambien addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help. Contact Zinnia Health by calling our 24/7 helpline at (855) 430-9439 or send us a message. We’re here for you.


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