black-eyeAs if it weren’t bad enough that Ambien, a.k.a. zolpidem, can cause sleepwalking, sleep eating, and sleep driving. Now researchers are saying that America’s favorite sleeping pill increases the retention of negative memories. This is not a good thing.

Sleep generally helps you process negative events. Chances are you’ll never forget the fire that broke out in your kitchen, but sleep will help to diminish its emotional charge. You’ll wake up after a good night’s sleep in a more positive frame of mind.

But Ambien seems to interfere with this process. It does so by increasing sleep spindles—sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain that may last up to a second. Overall, sleep spindles are beneficial. They play a role in helping to consolidate memories of facts and events. But the team that conducted this new research, led by psychologist Sara C. Mednick of UC Riverside, found that sleep spindles enhance the retention of emotionally charged memories as well—negative memories in particular.

Ambien’s Effects on Emotion

Researchers in this study divided their subjects into three groups. One group was given Ambien; the second, a placebo; and the third, Xyrem, another sedative drug. All subjects then looked at a series of images, some positive and others disturbing. Then they took naps. When they were awakened and asked to recall the images, the subjects that had taken Ambien remembered more images that had negative or highly arousing content. So the drug appears to enhance the recall of negative memories.

I use Ambien from time to time, and frankly I’m not surprised at this result. I love the little yellow pills for their unfailing ability to put me to sleep. But when my wakefulness is due to stress and emotional arousal, malaise is still with me the morning after I take a pill. Whatever good the Ambien does (and I’m still convinced the benefits outweigh the side effects, at least for me) it does not do a good job of helping regulate my mood.

So Ambien looks like a bad drug for people with anxiety disorders and PTSD. “These are people who already have heightened memory for negative and high-arousal memories,” Mednick said, quoted in an online article in Psych Central. “Sleep drugs might be improving their memories for things they don’t want to remember.”

All Ambien users—regardless of other health conditions—should keep this new information in mind.

If you use Ambien, how does taking a pill at night affect your mood the next day?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg is an author and journalist.She began her career as a teacher, capped off when she authored a pair of ESL textbooks with her husband. She then became a journalist, working both freelance and as a staff reporter and features writer. She has written about Latino affairs, education, government, health, social issues, exercise, and food. While reporting in Pennsylvania, she won a Keystone Press Award and awards from the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association. Her stories have been picked up by the Associated Press.

5 Comments

  1. Quinton Henderson May 25, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    This medicine made me belligerent and I had extreme mood swings. Afterward I was hospitalized in ICU for four days and was in the hospital for 4 weeks. I had to learn how to walk, talk, eat and drink.

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  2. Some people do experience serious side effects taking Ambien. It’s wise to be careful when using it, particularly people with insomnia who are taking drugs for other health conditions as well.

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  3. It is clearly meant for short term. How can Doctors keep subscribing it??
    I also have been ADDICTED to it for years. Some of the horrific things iI have done are still a mystery to me. It takes more and more to sedate you and when you run out the insomnia is brutal and stressful. It should be pulled off the market.

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    1. Hi Julie,

      I’m sorry you found yourself addicted to Ambien. I hope you’ve found a better way to manage your sleep.

      I’ve spoken with a few others who’ve had problems with Ambien. But people are very different when it comes to their reactions to drugs. I know quite a few Ambien users who take the drug intermittently or even frequently and have not experienced the kind of bad reactions you describe. They like the drug and find it helpful. That is probably why doctors continue to prescribe it.

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  4. I am just trying to get off this after six years (I dug through my old medical records). Had anxiety and insomnia and could not sleep. Just recently started on natural thyroid through a naturopathic doctor, as well as some supplements. I’ve had horrible, worsening muscle pain starting about five years ago. Also mood issues and some depression, hard to differentiate cause (partly to pain). I just found that Ambien is also related to muscle pain. This will be five nights off it. I was only taking 1/3 to 1 per night, sometimes none (used something else OTC or Ativan). Not sure but I am feeling less pain, but that fluctuates. ND told me to try valerian. I am determined to get off this for enough time to see if my pain is coming from this. Not easy to describe but I’ve never felt it is due to my age. Just miserable deep ache that made sleep hard. Also mental ups and downs. Now I wonder if Ambien has been compounding it. It does work well to get you to sleep, but it doesn’t keep me asleep.

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