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Medication

Ambien®

Ambien is the brand name of the generic medication zolpidem. It is a sedative-hypnotic medication used for the short-term treatment of insomnia.

by

Ros Lederman

Medically reviewed by

Lloyd Sederer, MD

March 28, 2022

Ambien®

fast facts.

Pronunciation

am-bee-en

Drug class

sedative-hypnotic

Other names

zolpidem

Used for

insomnia

About

Ambien®

What is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name of the generic medication zolpidem. It is a sedative-hypnotic medication used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Ambien acts to increase levels of a brain neurotransmitter (a molecule that passes messages from one nerve to another) called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This effect on the GABA receptors results in you feeling calm and/or sleepy. 


When considering Ambien (brand) or zolpidem (generic), your doctor or nurse will usually prescribe it for short-term use (typically no more than a few weeks). Ambien is also considered a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to the risk of abuse or dependence, which the DEA has classified as low for this particular medication. Nevertheless, no more than a 30-day supply can be dispensed at any given time.


Ambien is available in multiple forms and doses:

Ambien tablet

  • 5 mg
  • 10 mg

Ambien CR (extended release) tablet

  • 6.25 mg
  • 12.5 mg

 

The recommended starting Ambien dosage is 5 mg for women and 5 to 10 mg for men, taken right before bed when at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep are planned. If 5 mg is not enough to improve your insomnia symptoms, your prescribing doctor, nurse, or Minded professional may adjust your dose. The maximum recommended dose is 10 mg/day.


The recommended starting Ambien CR dosage is 6.25 mg for women and 6.25 to 12.5 mg for men, also taken right before bedtime when at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep are planned. Your prescribing doctor, nurse, or Minded professional may adjust your dose if this is not enough to improve your insomnia. The maximum recommended dose for Ambien CR is 12.5 mg/day.


Regardless of whether you are taking the immediate release (to help fall asleep) or extended release (to help fall asleep and stay asleep) of Ambien, waking up before 7-8 hours of sleep has passed may leave you feeling drowsy, and you may experience short-term (recent) memory problems because the effects of the medication have not worn off.


Your doctor, prescribing nurse, or Minded professional will provide you with instructions that include when and how often to take this medication.


Ambien should be taken on an empty stomach—not with food. 


If you accidentally miss a dose of Ambien, just skip that dose and take the next dose at the next regularly scheduled time. You should not double up on doses of Ambien.

For more information:


Ambien side effects, warnings, and interactions

Ambien side effects

Common side effects of Ambien and Ambien CR include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness, including feeling drowsy the day after you take Ambien CR
  • Grogginess
  • Headache
  • Sleepiness


Always let your doctor, prescribing nurse, or Minded professional know if you experience these (or any other) side effects.


Rare or serious side effects of Ambien and Ambien CR include:

  • Anxiety
  • A severe allergic reaction, which can include swelling of your tongue and/or throat, difficulty breathing, nausea, and/or vomiting. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms after taking Ambien or Ambien CR.
  • Short-term (recent) memory loss
  • Unusual thoughts or behavior

 

Some people who take Ambien (or Ambien CR) will engage in activities—such as eating, driving, or making phone calls—while they are either asleep or not completely awake. They do not remember having done these things once they are awake.


Seek medical attention right away if you experience these—or any other—serious side effects while you are taking Ambien.




Ambien warnings

Ambien and Ambien CR come with an FDA “Black Box” warning. This means that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified serious safety risks that may occur from taking these medications. These are serious safety warnings—though the actual risk may be low.


The Black Box warning for Ambien states that some people who take these medications engage in activities such as walking, driving, or other behaviors while asleep or not fully awake—and that some of these events could result in serious injuries or even be fatal.



Ambien and pregnancy

Let your doctor, prescribing nurse, or Minded professional know if you are planning on becoming pregnant and/or breastfeeding. Taking Ambien during the last few months of pregnancy, especially, may be harmful to your baby. Ambien is in your breastmilk, so breastfeeding while Ambien is in your system may expose your baby to the effects of the medication.



Ambien withdrawal symptoms

Ambien can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly. If you want to or need to stop taking Ambien, discuss a plan to do so carefully and safely with your prescribing doctor, nurse, or Minded professional.

 

Ambien withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal and/or muscle cramps
  • Convulsions
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

 


Ambien interactions

Tell your doctor, prescribing nurse, or Minded professional about all other medications and/or supplements you are taking to determine if Ambien may have any negative interactions with them.


Ambien may interact with:

  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Chlorpromazine (Ormazine, Thorazine)
  • CYP3A4 inducers, such as rifampin (Rifadin) or St. John’s wort
  • Ketoconazole (Extina, Ketodan Kit, Kuric, Nizoral, Nizoral A-D, Xologel), antifungal medications used to treat fungal infections

 

Ambien and alcohol

You should not drink alcohol while you are taking Ambien. Alcohol can increase the effects of Ambien to the point of dangerous impairment. Because alcohol can impair judgment and memory, drinking may also increase your risk of unintentionally overdosing on Ambien.


Symptoms of an Ambien overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Severe nausea
  • Severe vomiting
  • Staggering
  • Coma
  • Death

An Ambien overdose can be fatal—seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any overdose symptoms.

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Frequently asked questions about Ambien

Is Ambien a benzo?

Ambien is not a benzodiazepine. It is a sedative-hypnotic medication. It also may be referred to as affecting the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) brain receptor.

Can you get Ambien over the counter?

Ambien is a controlled substance and a prescription medication. It is not available over the counter.

Is Ambien addictive?

As mentioned above, Ambien is considered a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to its potential for abuse and/or dependence. However, it is classified as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it is considered “low potential” for dependence or abuse. While Ambien addiction is possible, the risk is relatively low for most people.

Lunesta vs Ambien—which might be better for you?

Lunesta is a hypnotic medication that, like Ambien, is used to treat insomnia. 

While few head-to-head studies have directly compared these medications, both Ambien and Lunesta are:

  • Controlled substances
  • Intended for short-term use
  • Available in immediate release form

However, Ambien also has an extended release form, Ambien CR, which may make it a better option for some people.


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Is Ambien right for you?

Visit Minded to find out if Ambien could work in the treatment of your insomnia.


Minded offers online appointments with board-certified psychiatrists and nurse practitioners within a week. If you already have an Ambien prescription, Minded can help you refill or renew it online. Our team of professionals also can assist with adjusting your dosage or advising you about other medications that might be a good fit for your needs.


The psychiatrists and nurse practitioners at Minded can prescribe—by a video appointment—controlled medications like Ambien to eligible Minded subscribers when medically needed. If you are located in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, or Texas, you may be eligible under temporary authorization that is in effect during the COVID-19 public health emergency.


Minded Medication Guides are intended as educational aids only. They are not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatment. They are not a substitute for a medical exam, nor do they replace the need for services provided by medical professionals. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist before taking any prescription medication and throughout any treatment.


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