Ambien, Lunesta, Other 'New-Generation' Sleep Aids Linked to Bizarre BehaviorMay 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP New generation sleeping pills, like Lunesta and Ambien, may be as likely to cause serious adverse reactions as older sleep aids. While older pills are much more likely to cause daytime sedation, addiction and withdrawal symptoms, drug classified as nonbenzodiazepines (NBZs), including Lunesta and Ambien, seem just as likely to cause amnesia and erratic behavior.
Introduced in the 1990s, NBZs are all sedatives used for the treatment of insomnia. They have proved to be safer than both benzodiazepines and the older barbiturates, especially when taken in overdose, and also have less of a tendency to induce dependence and addiction although these issues can still become a problem with abuse of NBZs. As a result, NBZs like Lunesta an Ambien have become widely prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, particularly in elderly patients.
But it appears that NBZs have not eliminated all of the problems associated with sleeping pills. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, an analysis of adverse-event reports filed with the World Health Organization suggests that some side effects of this generation of sleep medications may be as bad as- and even worse than - the older generation, including Halcion, which was banned in some countries.
The WHO Collaborating Center for International Drug Monitoring received 867 reports from 24 countries of people encountering amnesia, often coupled with confusion, agitation and other behavior disturbances, while taking the new sleeping pills, like Lunesta and Ambien, through March, 2007. That compares with 1,032 adverse reports with the older class of benzodiazepines, even though they have been on the market for decades longer.
People under the influence of these drugs have gone on eating binges, driven their cars and engaged in other activities that they later cannot remember. The Wall Street Journal relates one story of a woman who painted her front door in her sleep, and in some cases, people have had serious car accidents and even set fire to their homes while in the seemingly-hypnotic state sometimes caused by the drugs.
Such reports prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year to require that Ambien, Lunesta and other similar drugs carry strong warnings. But these sleep aids are still wildly popular, and the number of prescriptions written for them grew by 10 percent last year.
Most sleep experts suggest that people experiencing insomnia avoid all drug remedies if possible, and try natural alternatives like avoiding caffeine, reducing stress and increasing exercise. Unfortunately, those measures don't always work, so anyone considering any type of sleeping pill, including Ambien and Lunesta, should be sure to take precautions.
It is a good idea to go to bed as soon as a sleeping pill is taken, as they can work in as little as 15 minutes. No one should ever take more than the maximum dose, and not type of sleeping pill should ever be taken with alcohol. Experts interviewed by The Wall Street Journal also suggested stashing car keys in an unusual place, and installing an alarm on the bedroom door for those who routinely use Ambien, Lunesta or other sleep aids.