As 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?