Toxic Sleep: How Ambien And Other Sleep Inducing Drugs Can Destroy Restorative Sleep

It’s the quick fix for insomnia. Ambien, Lunesta, Valium, and other drugs are overprescribed in the United States in epic numbers as Americans attempt to get more sleep, without addressing underlying issues that might be easy resolutions to their problem.

Many practitioners who prescribe these drugs often have little understanding of their biochemistry and often provide high refill numbers which create addiction tendencies with these medications.

Sleep specialists exist to help conquer these complex disorders, but many people do not want to take the time to get a sleep study done to determine if your problem might be a physical one. I have had several sleep studies done, all revealing the same medical condition: airway obstruction. I solved the problem, at least a large part of it, but merely switching my tall fluffy pillow to a flat, low profile alternative.

I’m familiar with Ambien, whose generic version is zolpidem tartrate, a medicine classified as a hypnotic. I’ve taken it on and off for years when I just can’t fall asleep. My problem has always been sleep induction, or falling asleep, due to obstructed airway and breathing issues.

Once most people fall asleep, they are often fine for the night, and travel through all of the phases of sleep that restore the brain and heal our bodies.

The triggers for insomnia are pretty vast in today’s culture, both from work demands and the pressures of life in general, taking its toll on the joy factor we experience.  

Tossing and turning and the inability to drift off are the most obvious symptoms of insomnia. Night time insomnia troubles are one thing, but daytime symptoms can be far more troubling.  They include fatigue and impaired judgement, inability to concentrate, memory impairment, grumpy behavior, withdrawal from social infrastructure, and worse.

In fact, businesses and professions have been lost by using sleep meds, as they can reduce your efficiency by 80%, allowing your competition, your coworkers, and your family, to fall by the wayside. Car accidents, industrial mishaps, even workplace electrocution and falls can all be caused directly by daytime insomina. influences of which sometimes cause car crashes and other accidents.

Most people tolerate sleeping medications well, especially if you follow the label which specifically states these kinds of drugs are designed for “short term use only”, yet many take Ambien, as an example, for years, even decades. 

Also, the FDA required black labels on sleep induction drugs which warn of behaviors that may not be remembered the following morning.

Behaviors like driving, preparing food, having sex, making bizarre phone calls, even urinating in the middle of an aisle on an overnight flight, are documented events that can occur when someone popped an Ambien to induce sleep.

Considering that 10% of Americans suffer from some form of insomnia, it’s no surprise that approximately 60 million prescriptions for Ambien are written every year. And, our sleep hygiene is so terrible that many insomniacs who could resolve their sleep problems with simple adjustments in sleep environments and habits, rely upon drugs to put them to sleep.

Up to 60% of us are using our cell phones while we’re in bed, either before drifting off, or upon waking in the middle of the night. Almost 80% of us tether our cell phones and recharge them with in reach likely on a nightstand or even in bed. 

Endless articles and research in the sleep literature remind us how disruptive  our phones and computers are to our sleep patterns, further driving the need for artificial intervention with drugs like Ambient to put us to sleep. As crazy as it sounds, the cell phone industry itself funded a study in 2007 that found that individuals exposed to cell phone radiation prior to bed time had a far more difficult time falling asleep than people who turn off their devices prior to getting into bed.

When you look at the side effects of most sleep drugs, including Ambien, it’s chilling to consider that these drugs are treated more like Advil and breath mints rather than a hardcore hypnotic agent. Side effects of Ambien, and this is an abbreviated list, include everything from rapid heart rate, nausea, vomiting, impaired vision, slowed respiratory rates, memory loss, sedation, disorientation, confusion, and endless others.

It’s not that Ambien is a toxic poison that’s going to kill you, but it can cause grave consequences to many people as we’ve described, and must be used with extreme caution. It can be very helpful, and many people swear by it, calling it a miracle drug, often giving them their lives back by allowing them to catch up on sleep.

The problem is that Ambien induced sleep is not the same as natural sleep, and the phases of sleep required to receive rejuvenating and restorative sleep are dampened, and since the drug is only slow metabolized and excreted through the urine, much of it stays in our blood stream well into the following day.

Our advice, talk to your doctor, and try to taper off of sleep medications, especially if you have been using them for longer periods of time, consistently, and rely on them for sleep induction, rather than making easy lifestyle changes that will dramatically improve natural sleep.

Some simple tips can help you get a good night's sleep:

  • Stick to a regular bedtime and rising time.

  • Get lots of daylight, but avoid bright light before bedtime.

  • Use your bed only for sleeping or lovemaking, never for reading or watching TV. If you can't sleep after 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed and go into another room. Read quietly with a dim light but don't watch TV, since the full-spectrum light emitted by the tube has an arousing effect. When you feel sleepy, get back into bed — but don't delay your scheduled awaking time to compensate for lost sleep.

  • Don't nap during the day unless it's absolutely necessary. Even then, restrict your nap to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.

  • Get plenty of exercise. Build up to 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise nearly every day; walking is an excellent choice. Get your exercise early in the day, and then try some stretching exercises or yoga to relax your muscles and your mind at bedtime.

  • Wind down late in the day. Whenever possible, schedule stressful or demanding tasks early and less challenging activities later. Establish a regular bedtime and a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath or listening to soothing music.

  • Eat properly. Avoid caffeine, especially after mid-afternoon. Try to avoid all beverages after dinner if you find yourself getting up at night to urinate. If you enjoy a bedtime snack, keep it bland and light. Avoid alcohol after dinnertime; although many people think of it as a sedative, alcohol can actually impair the quality of sleep.

  • Be sure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom is dark and quiet. It should also be well ventilated and kept at a constant, comfortable temperature. Try using a sleep mask, earplugs, or a white noise machine to compensate for problems in your sleeping environment.

  • Above all, don't worry about sleep. Watching the clock never helps. Except when keeping a sleep diary, don't keep track of the amount of time you spend trying to sleep. Instead, just rest quietly and peacefully. Try not to lie in bed reviewing your problems and plans. If you really are overloaded, get out of bed and make a list, then return to bed and think of something relaxing and pleasant.