Worries about sleep drug's side effects

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Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: My wife takes Ambien to help her fall asleep. She frequently takes it before she goes up to bed, either in the family room or in the kitchen. The Ambien kicks in then, of course, and she falls asleep on the couch and stumbles up to bed several hours later. I've asked her to keep the medicine by the bed, but to no avail. The other night after she took it, she ended up in the kitchen eating ice cream out of the carton. She frequently goes on these eating binges after taking Ambien. Is this a normal side effect? I'm sorry to say, I lost my temper, took the ice cream away and put it back in the freezer. I said she was acting irresponsibly. I really am worried for her safety (going up the stairs), but she doesn't want to hear it.--Worried Husband

DEAR WORRIED: Ambien has potential side effects that have been fairly well publicized. Even a layperson like me (or you or your wife) can do some research to see that this drug, which is in a class of drugs called "sedative-hypnotics," can cause people to get up in the middle of the night and eat, cook, talk on the phone and even -- in rare and extreme cases -- get in the car and drive while impaired.

One of the less-serious but still significant side effects is the weight gain that people report because of "sleep-eating." This drug can also make people feel depressed, anxious, hung over, drowsy or dizzy during the day.

From what you report, your wife is not taking this powerful drug according to the directions. Because it causes drowsiness so rapidly, it should be taken right before she goes to sleep. It is also intended for short-term use. Your wife should speak to the prescribing physician.

According to Pamela S. Hyde of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "Physicians and patients need to be aware of the potential adverse reactions associated with any medication, and work closely together to prevent or quickly address any problems that may arise."