Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« The Second-Annual Stranger Gon... | Currently Hanging »

Monday, April 28, 2008


posted by on April 28 at 13:04 PM

I was having trouble sleeping.

That’s not unusual for me. I’ve always been a light/only occasional sleeper. And conditions were perfect for a sleepless night—I was sleeping on a couch in my aunt’s living room in Tucson, I had to get up early for a flight the next morning, And, um, I had just watched my mother die. So when I was offered an Ambien I decided to take it.

I’d been offered Ambien in the past, mostly by a friend that swears by the drug. Ambien also inspires my boyfriend to swear—mostly at me, since he has to deal with me when I haven’t slept for a few days. He’s long wanted me to get a prescription but I’ve always refused. Isn’t Ambien that drug that makes people sleep walk, eat, fuck, drive, etc.? Did I really want to start taking that drug?

But… I made an exception that night and took the pill. When I woke up and it was still dark I figured that, shit, Ambien isn’t that great. It was groggy, but I wasn’t asleep. So the drug didn’t work—not for me, anyhow. But when I looked at the clock in the kitchen it wasn’t 2 AM, my usual wake-up time, but 6:30 AM. I’d been asleep for nine hours. Nine hours in a row.

I got a prescription. I took the drug every night for three weeks. I slept and slept and slept and slept. But one night I couldn’t take the pill—I was home alone with the kid and I needed to be capable of waking up in the middle of the night and snapping to attention if there was a late-night emergency, a nightmare, a zombie attack, etc. So I didn’t take the pill—and I didn’t sleep. Not at all, not a wink.

The next day I got online and looked up Ambien’s less spectacular side effects—the side-effects that hadn’t made headlines—and guess what I found? One of the side effects was insomnia. Insomnia! But you’ll only get insomnia, I read, or get insomnia back, if you stop taking the drug. They call it “rebound insomnia.”

I stopped taking Ambien—and I didn’t sleep for three days.

Nice drug they’ve got there. Glad I’m not addicted to it. Anymore.

RSS icon Comments


Dude. How could you not know that?

Posted by Jerod | April 28, 2008 1:13 PM

The wife raids the kitchen when she takes Ambien. Before she takes it, she reminds me to remind her to not eat.

Bet you can guess how that works out.

(She also likes to get busy on the drug.)

Posted by six shooter | April 28, 2008 1:16 PM

I refuse to take any new pharmaceuticals. I trust drug companies as much as I trust GW. Amoxicillin and Mucinex are as far as I'll go.

Posted by AMB | April 28, 2008 1:20 PM

Yeah, that's really not a drug you should take every night. My father has insomnia and only takes Ambien if he has a really bad night. Usually he sticks to valerian, which I think has fewer side effects. I have mild insomnia, but the only thing I've ever taken for it is cannabis.

Posted by julia | April 28, 2008 1:24 PM

Hi Dan

My beloved mom passed away the day before yours, after a very sudden and massive heart attack. (Your post that week was very powerful for me) I was in a state and needless to say being a regularly bad sleeper I could not sleep at all and being awake and thinking is torture. I got given Ambien by my Dr SIL (Sister in Law) and I slept well for 5 days. Then I did the reading and found out that basically 10 days of sleeping pills (continuous) is too much and insomnia after that point is almost always the result.
So you have my sympathies on this one and I completely relate - but hopefully the 3 weeks of sleep got you through the worst of the awake and thinking too much nights and now you can handle the insomnia and the grief at the same time.
Wishing you a long life.

Posted by Amanda | April 28, 2008 1:27 PM

Ambien is to sleep on long plane rides, nothing else. Works perfectly.

Posted by Fnarf | April 28, 2008 1:28 PM

Wanna' sleep? Bourbon. Also works for mood disorders.

Posted by erostratus | April 28, 2008 1:32 PM

@3, this is a sound strategy. In a number of cases, older drugs are as, if not more, effective as the new treatments. Drug companies are only required to test a new drug's effectiveness against a placebo. They don't compare them for effectiveness vs. existing treatments.

And older drugs have the advantage of a longer track record when it comes to side effects. Vioxx is a great example.

Posted by PA Native | April 28, 2008 1:33 PM

Up until the last few lines I was seriously worried that you had found a "solution" to your problem. Thanks for being honest. People really need to understand what they are in for.

Posted by saxfanatic | April 28, 2008 1:34 PM

thank you for posting this. I'm going to shove it in the face of my swearing boyfriend who's been trying to get me to get an Ambien rx for years now.

Posted by jessica yen | April 28, 2008 1:47 PM

For cryin' out loud, maybe you could write your next article about how cocaine is addictive. But hey, my dealer didn't mention that when he last sold me my fix.

As far a drugs in general (legal or not) are concerned: it's *always* a trade of one bad for another.

Posted by alien | April 28, 2008 1:48 PM

A couple of more benign solutions: Melatonin helps you get to sleep. Benadryl (just half of one pill) helps you sleep a bit deeper.

Posted by yuiop | April 28, 2008 1:50 PM

I sleep like total crap as well. Always. Since I was a kid.

Benadryl is what I used when need help sleeping. Most anti-histamines--like benadryl--are pretty reliable at making one drowsy and have a fairly benign side effect profile. The only thing I dislike is the drying effect on long airplane rides...

Drugs like ambien work through the same general mechanism as benzos (like valium) or barbituates. Effective, but inherently habit forming--regardless of what the drug companies say.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | April 28, 2008 1:52 PM

I'm with most of you here, Don't trust the new drugs. Personally, I stick with Dylar.

Posted by treacle | April 28, 2008 1:53 PM

Dan, aren't you really writing here, "My doctor sucks." There's a whole great profession of medicine, covered by insurance, called sleep medicine. There's an estimate that 10 percent of the U.S. population has a sleep disorder of some form or another (insomnia, apnea, etc.). I have apnea, and use a night-time breathing device (a CPAP). It got rid of what I thought was a combination of poor sleep and insomnia. With apnea, you wake yourself up by stopping breathing. (I was not breathing 30 to 40 times an hour for brief periods.)

Anyway, instead of using your G.P., who apparently prescribes powerful drugs without describing the side effects, or telling you to consult the pharmacist when you pick up new prescriptions, you might visit a sleep clinic (Swedish just pupped off theirs; that's the one I visit), and get some actual help from specialists who won't avoid explaining both the pros and cons.

(The con of a CPAP is that you have to sleep with a freaking mask on every night. Plus side, you don't die early from congestive heart failure.)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | April 28, 2008 1:57 PM

I swear by melatonin. It doesn't knock you out, it just make you a little more tired, and it doesn't seem to be habit-forming. Plus it's kind of natural.

Posted by Dade Murphy | April 28, 2008 2:02 PM

Try tryptophan. It's legal again, and although it's more subtle, it works for me really well (I had insomnia to varying degrees for years.)

Posted by LeslieC | April 28, 2008 2:03 PM

And you didn't read through all the side effects before taking it because... ?

Posted by stinkbug | April 28, 2008 2:13 PM

Because, Stinkbug, I'm an idiot, of course. And, uh... Glenn? My doctor didn't give me the month's supply of Ambien I was slowly chewing my way through. That's all I can say.

Posted by Dan Savage | April 28, 2008 2:16 PM

Makers Mark

Posted by john cocktosin | April 28, 2008 2:19 PM

Hey, Dan, I've got some pretty hairy sleeping problems in the same vein as yours, and I've been reluctant to take Ambien because I already have issues with doing crazy shit in my sleep (i.e., waking up in the kitchen drinking Coffeemate straight out of the bottle. Who does that?)

The only thing I've ever found that really helps is taking 100-200 mg of 5-HTP at bedtime. Since I started taking it a couple of weeks ago, I'm able to sleep through the night instead of waking up every single hour. I don't feel retarded when I wake up in the morning, and if I miss a nightly dosage (which I've totally done, more than once) then maybe I wake up once or twice that night as opposed to the (I swear to God) 12-15 times I was waking up before.

Give it a whirl. Worst case scenario, you're out a few bucks.

(My condolences on your mom. She sounded like one hell of a lady.)

Posted by haunted leg | April 28, 2008 2:25 PM

With either Ambien or Lunesta I get both rebound insomnia and daytime drowsiness if I take them more than 3-4 days in a row.

However, I sleep like crap - hence a compromise, take ~1 per week, that way rather than seven crappy nights, I get one good night, six crappy nights and avoid the side effects.

Posted by jhovis | April 28, 2008 2:25 PM

Sleeping pills are like cold medicines-- they mask the symptoms for a while, but they don't actually help you in the long run.

Glenn @15 has it right: a sleep center and/or a sleep specialist is the best way to fix the problem. I had insomnia for pretty much my whole life, and I've tried all sorts of things, from OTC stuff to melatonin to valerian to heavy-duty prescription sleeping pills.

When I finally went to a sleep center, it took one visit to properly diagnose me with a circadian rhythm disorder (basically, I'm naturally nocturnal), and then a couple of months to fix it, sans any medication whatsoever.

So Dan (or anyone else), if this is a long-term problem, don't waste time with Ambien or any other pill, and go to a real sleep doctor already.

Posted by Megan | April 28, 2008 2:29 PM

Ambien is very dangerous, and in my opinion, highly addictive. I used to take it when I lived in New York and was going through a bad patch of insomnia. When I expressed concern to my crackpot shrink about taking it for prolonged periods and perhaps becoming dependent, he responded - without a hint of irony - "Oh no, it's fine. I have patients that have been taking it for years."

Hmm... could that be because they're ADDICTED?

Beyond its addictive properties, it can (as has been widely reported) cause total blackouts after which people have no recollection of eating their way through the refrigerator, having sex or - scariest of all - driving.

Posted by Snack Cakes | April 28, 2008 2:29 PM

Ambien's great for people who have *occassional* sleeplessness. Nightly use is discouraged and everything I've read says so. I never take it more than once or twice a week and it's taken me since February 2007 to go through 3 prescriptions of 30 pills each. Since I don't take it more than 2x a week, I find I don't NEED to take it more frequently.

Posted by LH | April 28, 2008 2:36 PM

The pills do tend to lead to habituation. However, one way around habituation is to carefully rotate (avoiding cross reactions) your roster of sleep aids. Klonopin works well too, in very small doses. plus all the usual: exercise, stretching, decreasing light in the evening, etc. Like changing your eating, changing your sleep takes a lifestyle change (the apnea mask is a definite lifestyle change). Good luck.

Posted by LMSW | April 28, 2008 3:03 PM

I just want to chime in and agree that yeah sometimes Ambien can cause you to do things while you are asleep.

A friend's mom called in the middle of the night ranting, they thought she was having a stroke or something and called the EMTs, turns out it was Ambien and she was fast asleep, not even aware.

And, closer to home for me, my elderly father took an Ambien one night and while he was asleep he got out of bed and tried to walk through the house, he had a horrible fall and banged himself up pretty badly.

Posted by PopTart | April 28, 2008 3:23 PM

"And, uh... Glenn? My doctor didn't give me the month's supply of Ambien I was slowly chewing my way through. That's all I can say."

So what Dan, are you on something else than Ambien? I'm only asking because you seem to take prescription drugs without prescription and then complain about side-effects your doctor didn't tell you about? Because --oh right-- you didn't actually see a doctor.

That's like what, buying a sparkling new BMW, tinkering with the engine not knowing the first thing about mechanics, ruining the car in the process and then start complaining on the internet about how beemers s-ck. Like Homer says: d'oh.

Posted by alien | April 28, 2008 3:27 PM

Please, please, please people, read the side effects BEFORE you take the drugs. And make sure your not mixing two drugs at the same time that could cause serious damage.

Posted by Vince | April 28, 2008 3:41 PM

@15, @23: I suddenly developed really intense insomnia a little over a year ago in late Feb/early March of 2007. I went to my dr about it and they--seemingly grudgingly--wrote me a referral to see someone at the Sleep Clinic at Harborview. They wouldn't do a sleep study for me unless I was snoring, which I don't think I was. They just talked about developing better sleep habits, which I did appreciate.

A little over a year later, I'm still not sleeping at the societally correct time.

I do not think (unless you are snoring) they will really do anything for you. Unless Swedish is a better system than UWMC is. Swedish probably also charges more.

I'm frustrated. I really think the sudden insomnia I experienced really deeply reset my brain, and I'm having a hard time getting out of it. Even though I've been a night person and a late sleeper for many years, I still feel this is true.

I would like to look into some of the older drugs mentioned on here (not Ambien, et al). But one of them, 5-HTP, sounds like it could be a precursor to 5-HT, which is the structural name for serotonin, which as many know in it's manufactured form as Prozac, Zoloft, et al.

Also, maybe seeing a therapist might help. ANY; Choose your letters: Ph.D, Psy.D, LMHC, LICSW. It's possible some on this comments thread are anxious, stressed, and/or depressed. Talking to someone may help those who have suffered a major stressor. Therapy might also help those who repeatedly engage in destructive/stupid/maladaptive/illogical/ behaviors. I am considering it.

Just my .02.

Posted by feom | April 28, 2008 4:03 PM

The best sleep aid I've found for my persistent insomnia, unfortunately, is liquor. Turns out I'm actually allergic to Benadryl - or at least to one of the additives they in the pills - so I can't use it. Ironic, huh?

Posted by tsm | April 28, 2008 4:05 PM

How many of you non-sleepers drink coffee, tea, etc.? I can't have caffeine past 10 AM or it affects my ability to get to sleep at 10 PM. What about allergy pills? Those things are loaded with pseudoephedrine (pre-meth) and my Dr. had the audacity to suggest that I take one in the evening. Hah! Benadryl is great for night-time allergies but the groggy Benadryl hangover the next day takes caffeine to get rid of...

Posted by Joe in DE | April 28, 2008 4:52 PM

@31 - same is true for combat vets - one of the reason so many self-medicate with alcohol is it helps them sleep ... creatine is a better drug for that, however, but there's no real profit for the drug industry to push that ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 28, 2008 4:55 PM

Sleep aids, like Ambien, should only be used for about a week or so, because they can become addicting. I have the weirdest sleep pattern known to man I think. I've been diagnosed with delayed sleep phase disorder (some of you might have that) and sleep apnea (others of you might have that). I just say: good luck to you all with sleep problems! I need to try the CPAP again. God, I hate that thing! I am unwilling to give up caffeine though. I figure that as long as I'm willing to take antipsychotics I should definitely be allowed my caffeine!!! Dan, if you read this far: doesn't the Stranger give you health insurance? Please try not to self medicate...if only for your kid's sake!!!

Posted by Kristin Bell | April 28, 2008 8:03 PM

i can attest to the effectiveness of both valerian and melatonin. and side-effects are negligible.

Posted by ellarosa | April 28, 2008 9:06 PM

Dan, sleep disturbances are very common during periods of grieving. When my parents died I went through periods of wanting to do nothing BUT sleep, as well as waking up frequently (something I rarely did before), lying awake thinking too much, etc. This is going to sound like a cliche, but try starting with something pretty basic: moderate exercise (NOT right before you go to bed). If you already exercise a lot it might not have the same effect, but if you don't, a little moderate exercise added to your routine can make a huge difference. I just started taking yoga for the first time and am otherwise pretty sedentary. On the days I do yoga I sleep like I've been run over by a truck. Pretty amazing to me, considering it's non-aerobic.

My condolences on the loss of your mom. It's very, very hard but it does gradually get a little easier to bear.

Posted by Ex-Seattleite | April 28, 2008 10:05 PM

Orgasms do wonders for sleep. Ask any of my XGFs

Posted by zzzzzzzzzzzz | April 28, 2008 11:03 PM

I will occasionally take 2 tylenol PM, maybe once every other month. They have always worked well at helping me go to sleep faster. I haven't had a hard time falling asleep after a couple of consecutive nights on tylenol PM. I generally don't have a problem staying asleep though. I learned in my psychology of sleep class that anxiety is often the cause of having a hard time falling asleep, depression is often the cause of waking up during your sleep. Just something to consider.

Posted by DW | April 28, 2008 11:11 PM

Speaking of orgasms @37...hehe

Can someone please tell me why men tend to fall asleep after having an orgasm??? Is this just a cop-out or is it something physical???

Posted by Kristin Bell | April 29, 2008 2:03 AM

Ditto 31.

and it makes the phone calls go away.

Posted by Gimme an Icky | April 29, 2008 3:25 AM

Lunesta works better than Ambien for me, with less of a rebound effect... No late nite sleepwalking either. Give it a shot.

Posted by insomniac | April 29, 2008 8:53 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).