"John"

*Prescriber's name has been changed to protect them.

Driving car

Sleep-Driving

John pulled his 2007 BMW halfway through an intersection outside his apartment complex when the light was still red. Then he backed up, stopped for about 20 seconds, and decided to run the light the whole way this time. He scraped the curve, ran into the apartment complex's sign (a good distance from the road), then proceeded to hit a parked car. John parked two spaces down and casually walked into his apartment as the car’s alarm shrilled in the background.

The strangeness of this event isn’t that John walked away from the accident without so much as a courtesy note or that he ran a red light one and a half times with no discernible motivation. What’s strange is that John doesn’t remember any of it.

“You don’t ever remember what happened,” John said. “You can draw sketchy pictures of what happened, but you never know for sure. People tell you.”

The other person in the car told John.

He was coming back from the grocery store that night. He had taken Ambien before leaving for the store, and it had fully kicked in by the drive home.

“You lose depth perception on Ambien, so driving’s just completely out of the question,” John said. “Even though you know it, your Ambien mind will make its own decision.”

John said the medication sneaks up on you. It kicks in so fast, within five to 10 minutes, that you don’t even realize it. He said Ambien’s effects are similar to those of alcohol.

“It’s extremely dangerous in respect to other prescription medicines because you’ll get behind the wheel and you’ll crash very easily.”

It's Like Pushing a Button for Sleep

John, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has gotten three-month prescriptions for Ambien three times now. He said he doesn’t really need the drug, but as a college student, his sleeping schedule tends to get messed up, and it’s nice to be able to control his sleeping pattern.

“It’s like being able to push a button go to sleep,” John said. “It’s like instant sleep whenever you want it.”

John cautioned that a large portion of the Ambien prescriptions out there aren’t for the official Ambien brand. They’re for the generic equivalent, called zolpidem tartrate.

Bizarre Behavior

John said he’s done many unusual things on Ambien. He’s lost his phone on Ambien. He’s fallen asleep with his face in a bowl of soup on Ambien. He even posted mushy lyrics from the Counting Crows song, “Colorblind” in his research methods course discussion board on Ambien. He posted a retraction for that posting, saying he was “drunk.”

He said he tries to tell himself not to communicate with anyone while he’s on it now. Otherwise, he’ll say or do things he’d never do sober.

“Don’t let anyone’s communication on Ambien be a reflection of their character,” John said. “If there’s a tiny bit of weird in you, it brings it out to the surface.

“I’ve taken Ambien and then on the Ambien, without even knowing it, just took more Ambien,” he said. “You really lose control. You almost become another person.”

Memory Loss

John said sometimes he won’t remember anything at all about his Ambien trip. Other times, he’ll have a couple sketches of one or two things that happened and that’s it.

“If you consider your memory as a roll of film, I’d say I remember about two or three pictures from the night,” John said. “It’s a weird feeling.”

John, who admits to also using the medication recreationally, said Ambien is like a psychotic. You can take one and you’ll just go off the deep end, he said.

“You don’t even know what’s going on,” he said. “It’s cool, but after a while you just don’t really remember anything that happened.”

Benefits/Warnings

John said in the end, Ambien gets the job done. It helps you sleep and you wake up feeling good. He said there’s no hangover effect like with other sleeping pills. Plus, it gives you the option of setting a sleep schedule that works for you.

John cautions that the medicine won’t always knock you out cold, though. You have to make yourself go to sleep after you take it.

“The way you’re supposed to take it is in bed with the lights off and then just lay down and try to sleep, and you’ll be asleep and nothing like this will ever happen to you.”