Ambien: Sleeping Pill FAQs

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Insomnia, the inability to sleep, is all too common in our society. Many people have transient sleep disturbances and treat them with over-the-counter medications, while others turn to their healthcare provider for prescription medications - and there are plenty of choices for medications. Each has its benefits and risks, indications, and side effects, and these medications are not interchangeable. More importantly, they aren't safe to use together.

Regardless of the mechanism of action of sleeping pills, they are all "downers." They depress brain function, and if too many are taken or if they are mixed with alcohol or other drugs, the breathing centers of the brain can be depressed to the point that the body stops breathing, and the person dies.

One prescription sleep medication is zolpidem (Ambien). Ambien is a sedative drug that works quickly; but as with any sleeping pill, it needs to be used in a wise manner. It should be used in the smallest dose possible to get the intended effect (sleep), the person should be able to have 8 hours available for potential sleep when taking the drug, and until the effect of the drug is known on that individual person, the next day's activity should not include driving or using heavy machinery.