Ambien is a useful medication to treat insomnia. It works as a hypnotic drug, meaning that it induces a state of unconsciousness, similar to what occurs in natural sleep. It affects chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. By affecting a neurotransmitter called GABA, it can calm the activity of specific parts of the brain. One of the areas that may be affected is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is important in the formation of memory.
It is known that Ambien may cause memory loss as a side effect, especially at higher doses. If you take the medication and do not go to bed, this may be more likely to occur. When you immediately go to bed, a loss of memory is typically inconsequential. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember lying awake for a few minutes before falling asleep. There are many reports of people taking the sleeping pill and remaining awake and out of bed, however, with the affected person not recalling subsequent events.
Another problem occurs when someone who has taken Ambien gets up during the night. There are reports of complex sleep-related behaviors, similar to parasomnias, occurring while under the influence of Ambien. These might include sleepwalking (which occurs commonly anyhow) or more troublesome behaviors, such as sleep eating, sleep driving, or sexsomnia. The parts of the brain that control movements may be functioning while full consciousness and the ability to generate memory is turned off. These behaviors may lead to unintentional harm or even legal consequences.
Finally, it is highly recommended that Ambien not be used with alcohol or other drugs that affect the brain. This may worsen the effects on memory and could even lead to dangerous problems, such as disrupted breathing.
Once the medication has cleared out of your system, it is unlikely to continue to affect your memory during the day. If you find yourself having difficulties with recall after taking the medication, you may want to speak with your doctor and consider lowering the dose or tapering it off.
Ambien can be a safe and effective medication to treat difficulty sleeping, but if it affects your memory in an adverse way, you should consider alternative treatments for your insomnia.
"Ambien." Epocrates Rx Pro. Version 4.3, 2012. Epocrates, Inc. San Mateo, California.