Why Are You Using a Sleep Drug?

Criticism of widespread prescription sleep aid use is growing in the wake of increasing reports of people who eat, cook and drive in their sleep after taking Ambien.

Manufacturer Defends Drug

Ambien's maker Sanofi-Aventis has defended the safety of the drug, arguing that such side effects are rare. However, it is presently unknown how often they may occur, or which patients are the most vulnerable.

And even a rare side effect can affect a considerably number of people, considering that 26 million prescriptions for Ambien are written each year.

Reported Problems

Some reported problems with the sleep aid include:

  • 19 patients have been reported as eating in their sleep while taking Ambien; two started small fires while trying to cook
  • Ambien is one of the top 20 drugs found in the blood of drivers pulled over by the police, according to a report from Wisconsin
  • Ambien was linked to a number of traffic accidents reported to the FDA

Some At Higher Risk

Some patients are likely to be at a higher risk of side effects. One study showed that nearly every participant who experienced sleep eating was also taking antidepressants. Tendencies towards sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and sleepwalking are also risk factors.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Insomnia is absolutely pervasive in our culture. Nearly one in four of you reading this will have problems getting a good night's sleep.

Fortunately, when you follow the Total Health Program your likelihood of insomnia dramatically declines. Going to bed early, getting bright sun exposure in the day and sleeping in pitch black at night, exercising and avoiding medications and stimulants like caffeine go a long way to a sound night's sleep. 

The first two work by optimizing your natural levels of melatonin which is a major sleep hormone and powerful antioxidant that likely decreases your risk of many cancers.

Part of the reason many struggle with insomnia is that in industrialized countries the older you become the more likely you will be taking a prescription drug. Two out of every three visits to the doctor result in a drug being prescribed.

A study done four years ago showed that more than 12 percent of Americans over 65 are taking eight or more different drugs.

How can you sleep well with eight different drugs? It is a mystery to me how anyone taking eight medications could hope to sleep well.

In this new report it is interesting to note that the manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis', response to increasing reports of patients walking, eating and driving in their sleep after taking Ambien.

After conducting a review, the company found "no significant change" in the safety of Ambien. And, because 4 percent of patients are prone to sleepwalking anyway, a company spokesperson says there's no conclusive evidence Ambien was the actual cause.

Others placed the blame outright abuse of the drug, citing "sky-high levels" of Ambien in patients' bloodstreams.

It's interesting that at least some of the side effects may be tied to combining sleep aids with antidepressants, which are just as harmful to your health. Since insomnia and depression are often connected, this combination of drugs is fairly common.

What's more, the potential upside for taking a sleep drug is merely getting to sleep 15-20 minutes faster than not taking one -- meaning not much of a benefit at all. The potential harm far outweighs any potential benefits.

Getting the right amount of sleep every night is an important tool your body demands to stay healthy and prevent disease. If you're having difficulty doing so, please review my 29 secrets to a good night's sleep -- none of which include a drug -- today.

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