New Drug Guidelines for Ambien

Patient Expert

If you have been taking the prescription sleep aid Ambien, you should know that the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed its  dosage recommendations  and specifically advises women to use lower dosages.

The recommended dosage is now half of what it was.  The changes affect all drugs that contain Zolpidem, including Edluar, Zolpimist, Ambien CR, and Ambien.  The reasoning behind the new guidelines is to decrease the level of the drug that is in the bloodstream by morning, to reduce the risk of impaired driving.

Why the Change?

Once Ambien was released into the marketplace, the FDA began receiving reports of driving incidents among individuals who took the sleep aid. While it was difficult to prove that Ambien was the culprit of the increase in unsafe driving incidents, it did put the drug and its dosage under scrutiny. Labeling changes later occurred, followed by the new dosage recommendations.

The reason why women are of primary concern for dosage reductions is due to the way Ambien is metabolized in the liver. The concentration of liver enzymes in women is lower than in men. This means more of the drug remains in the female body for a longer period of time. Higher levels of the drug in the bloodstream upon waking can increase the chances of falling asleep while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

While the FDA encourages the decreased dosage for women, it suggests men should also be on the lowest effect dosage possible, too.

Should I reduce my dosage?

If you are currently taking Ambien, you may be curious as to whether you should cut your dosage in half. The correct answer for any medication is to take the lowest dosage possible that is effective. Depending on when you were prescribed your medication and its number of refills, your dosage may already be listed at the new guidelines. If in doubt, talk to your physician or pharmacist.

Ambien is in a class of medications known as hypnotics. It is prescribed to  combat insomnia  and was designed for short term use. It does slow down the brain and it is very effective at bringing on sleep. Most people report falling asleep within 20-30 minutes of taking the medication. The controlled release form of the drug works to sustain sleep.

The main concern is the sleepiness you may feel the morning after taking Ambien. But other side effects related to the drug may include dizziness, headache, abnormal dreams, rash, gastrointestinal irritation, and depression. More serious side effects which are less common include aggressive behavior, sleepwalking, sleep-eating, and thoughts of suicide.

Drug companies continue to work on  new sleep medications  which do not have the disturbing side effects of hypnotic medications. While Ambien currently dominates the sleep medication market in the U.S., new drugs without adverse side effects could put a big dent in that number in the future.

If you want to improve your sleep without sleeping pills, you may want to look into cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i). My  free sleep training course  uses CBT-i techniques to improve sleep naturally and effectively.

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