Ambien and other sleeping pills don’t cause racism, as Roseanne implied this week, but they could have other side-effects. Here’s what to expect when you take them.
On Tuesday, Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, an African American woman who was the senior advisor to president Barack Obama throughout his presidency.
Minutes later she deleted the offensive tweet, blaming ‘Ambien tweeting’ for her lack of judgement. So what is Ambien exactly and what are its side-effects?
Ambien is a prescription sleeping pill, also known as Zolpidem, one of the family of Z drugs and though racism is clearly not a side-effect there are other good reasons to avoid them.
With one in ten of us in ten of us in the UK taking prescription sleeping pills on a regular basis, it pays to know the facts. We spoke to Professor Simon Maxwell, Chair of the British Pharmacological Society’s Prescribing Committee about sleeping pills and what to expect when you take them.
BENZODIAZEPINES AND Z DRUGS
The most commonly prescribed sleeping tablets come from two families of drugs. The first is benzodiazepines, whose brand names include Valium, Tamazepam and the second is the newer generation ‘Z Drugs’ including Zolpidem, Zopiclone and Zaleplone. ‘Drugs like these should only be considered as a last resort,’ says Professor Maxwell. Both work by affecting the way certain brain chemicals transmit messages to brain cells and decreasing their ‘excitability’, thus calming the brain.’
Side effects: ‘These drugs come with a high risk of dependency and should only ever be taken as a last resort and for the short term’, says Professor Maxwell. ‘What’s more, as they work on brain chemistry they also come with ‘hangover’ effects such as grogginess, lack of concentration and lack of energy in the mornings. Don’t take them with any other drugs that affect the brain, for example anti-depressants, alcohol, antihistamines and anti-epileptic drugs.
With one in ten of us in ten of us in the UK taking prescription sleeping pills on a regular basis, it pays to know the facts.
‘Synthetic melatonin is available over the counter in the US and on-line to help promote sleep,’ says Professor Jim Horne, a sleep specialist at Loughborough University. ‘But not enough research has been done to establish its effectiveness or safety.’ In the UK it is only available on prescription ‘off-licence’ to people over 55. This is a hormone the body makes in response to darkness that helps regulate its sleep-wake cycle.
Side effects: Irritability, restlessness and even insomnia.
The basis of most over-the-counter remedies for sleep is usually antihistamines, says Professor Maxwell. ‘They are less likely to cause addiction problems,’ he says, ‘but any long-term use of hypnotic drugs – even over the counter ones – is not advisable.’ Antihistamines are ingredients used in allergy medication however they can also make you drowsy and are commonly found in over the counter sleep aids including Nytol, Panadol Night and Phenergan Nightime. ‘You may not become physically addicted to this sort of drug, but could feel you can’t get to sleep without it, known as psychological dependency,’ says sleep specialist Victoria Dawson.
Side effects: ‘You may feel drowsy the next day as they have a long-lasting action,’ says Dawson. ‘They also increase the effects of alcohol and their effectiveness decreases, the longer you use them.’