Ambien (Zolpidem) is a sleeping pill. It is approved by the FDA for the treatment of insomnia for a short-term. Specifically, it is approved for people who have difficulty falling asleep (sleep- onset insomnia). Ambien works fairly rapidly to allow you to fall asleep, typically within 15 to 20 minutes. It stays in your system for about 3 hours.

Ambien belongs to the same class of sleep medications as Sonata (Zaleplon) , Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Imovane (Zopiclone)- all of which are believed to have a better side effect profile than the older sleeping pills called benzodiazepines.

Ambien CR (continous release) or long acting table helps people fall asleep and  remain asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia).

Ambien is not an over- the- counter drug (OTC);  you need  a prescription from your physician. Ambien comes in two doses of 5 and 10 mg pill forms. The Ambien CR comes in 6.25 and 12.5 mg pills. There are also the sublingual (under tongue) and spray into the mouth. Ambien is made by the French pharmaceutical company corporation Sanofi-Aventis. In 2007, the drug became available in generic form.

The mechanism of action of Ambien works by allowing an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)  to bind to the GABA A receptors in the brain and helps the brain slow down through its inhibitory action.

Tips on how to use Ambien and other sedative-hypnotics

  • Take Ambien (or any sleeping medication) when you are ready for bed. Do not take a sleeping pill and then carry activities such as driving because it will make you sleepy soon.
  • Take Ambien only when you know you have at least 6 hours of sleep allowed ahead of you.
  • Remember, lower is better. Take the lower dose instead of the higher dose.
  • Watch out for side effects. One of the most serious (though rare) one is the one where people get up in the middle of the night and start sleep walking or go to their kitchen and eat and worse, not remember any of it; more alarmingly is the one where they drive cars during their half asleep and half awake state. If you experience anything like this, stop taking it and let your doctor know.
  • Other side effects include daytime drowsiness or rash. Drowsiness can be worse in elderly folks and it may increase their risk for falls.
  • Like many other sleeping aids, Ambien is meant for a short course to help you alleviate a period of insomnia. Over a prolonged period of use, there is a possibility of tolerance (so you need more of it to make it still work ). If you need it on a long-term basis, it is a good idea to use it as needed, a couple of days a week or so.
  • Follow good sleep habits so allow the sleeping pill to be effective.
  • If you stop taking it rapidly after being on it for few days, expect to have one or two days of a mild recurrence of insomnia. It is known as rebound insomnia. It will get better after a couple of days.
  • Do not take ambien with alcohol. Bad combination.
  • If you are pregnant let your doctor know before you take Ambien.
  • If you are breastfeeding, do not take ambien.