October 21, 2013

Ambien makes for strange bedfellow


By Jack Smith

I got lost at about 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, and I don't remember any of it.

It wasn't a relapse or anxiety that prompted me to get out of bed and wander around aimlessly. It was another foggy moment sponsored by Ambien.

We were staying at a friend's house out of town, and I took an Ambien to help me fall asleep. I've taken an Ambien most nights for probably 10 years for insomnia.

Like some football teams, I don't play well on the road when it comes to sleep. Been that way as long as I can remember.

Apparently, my poor sense of direction didn't help the matter either. My wife, startled by the empty warm spot in our bed, had to get up, find me and point me toward the bathroom. I'm told I ran into the sofa on the way back, but  I don't remember one bit of it.

The good news is  I didn't go in the closet. I actually did that once or twice in college, but I can't blame those episodes on  Ambien. Anheuser-Busch was likely the culprit.

Ambien really works,  but it's addictive and it makes me do whacky stuff. I do things like fix midnight meals that I don't remember eating—much less making—or write emails that have me scratching my head the following morning.

Another time, I was standing in the kitchen at 2 a.m. in my underwear making a ham sandwich and all kinds of noise. My wife emerged from the bedroom and asked a reasonable question. "What exactly are you doing?"

I apparently turned and looked at her, glassy eyed, and acted as if it were lunch time. "I'm making a sandwich," I shot back with an edge of defensiveness.

The damage report the following morning indicated I had smeared mustard and mayonnaise all over the counter and left the sandwich meat and condiments out. That generally doesn't go over well at our house.

The scary thing? I don't remember any of it.

Ambien makes me goofy, and the doctor said it probably prevents me from getting into REM sleep. That's not good for anyone with bipolar disorder.

As WebMD points out, bipolar can adversely impact good sleep, and lack of good sleep can exacerbate bipolar. It's a two-way street.

The good news is my team at The Menninger Clinic sent me for a sleep study. It showed I have sleep apnea. That's encouraging, really. It could explain why I have trouble getting to sleep and why I often feel fatigued even when I can fall asleep.

I'm currently trying to get a follow-up CPAP study done. My guess is I'll be sleeping with a mask soon.

My doctor said getting off Ambien and getting on a good sleep regimen once and for all could be"life changing." It could help me contain bipolar, lower my risk of other health problems and even elevate my mood.

That would be quite the mental health trifecta.

I'm hoping and praying for sweet dreams soon...and no more midnight sandwiches.


P.S. I apologize for those who had trouble accessing the blog earlier this morning. I apparently hit "publish" instead of "save" on an earlier draft of this post. It was real early, so let's blame that one on Ambien, too. Sweet dreams.


  1. Hi, I have depression and, also found out that I have sleep apnea. treating sleep apnea changed my life. Good changes! I'm now trying to know more about the relations betwen depression, anxiety and sleep apnea. In my case, things became much better since I'm using cpap regularly.

  2. I'm far from an expert on this, but I know that one of the best psychiatrists anywhere feels strongly that lack of sleep, or "fragmented" sleep in which one doesn't get enough REM sleep, can exacerbate mental illness, especially but not limited to bipolar. Hope that helps.

  3. I've been sleeping with a cpap machine for sleep apnea for 8+ years. Took Ambien before that. Cpap really has helped. Know it will help you too.

  4. Jack I was told I probably had sleep apnea but I have not wanted to follow up on it. I honestly should be taking something but I haven't. Your blog is very inspiring.

  5. Thanks, Gail. I would definitely follow up. Sleep is a crucial building block to restore good mental health.

  6. Jack until they get you set up on the CPAP, try just taking 1/2 of ambien and see if that relaxes you enough to fall asleep without the midnight meals. lol I want you to know that your blogs are encouraging and that you are heading in the right directions with a few kinks. Once those are dealt with, I feel sure and pray that your life with your family will return to normal. I want this for you. I see your Mom from time to time and she is just so sweet. Your Dad was a sweet man as well. I also know your words are encouraging to someone perhaps sharing the same feelings you have. Stay Focused, Stay Strong, Stay Motivated and Stay In Touch.

  7. I have taken ambien and have done the same loopy things. Lol love your blogs . You are helping so many people who are going through this but also educating us as you go along your path. Thank you. Reading your 5 things to never say...I am shocked and disappointed that anyone would ever say such things. Your awesome and encouraging. I am grateful you chose me to be in your circle. Pray for you and your family daily not because of the situation but because that's what people do for those you believe in.

    Have a fantastic Wednesday :)

  8. Rick,
    Thanks for sharing. If the treatment facilities I've been to are any indication, there is absolutely a connection with depression and anxiety. More than half of patients at the clinic I just returned from are treated for anxiety along with a mental illness. That's what I was told when I asked. Sleep difficulties were also common. I think it all ties together, like a computer with a warped hard drive. It can cause multiple problems. Take good care!

  9. Faye,
    Will do. Thank you for your kindness and your support. It means a lot. You have always been supportive and I appreciate that so much.
    Take good care,


  10. Jill,
    Your prayers are very much appreciated. Take care!!!

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