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Insomnia and Buttered Cigarettes

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September 29, 2014 by Erin Chamerlik, The Real Food Revivalist

During 2012 up to 25% of surveyed adults reported regular bouts of insomnia. (National Health Interview Survey). 

Ambien (Zolpidem Tartrate), is a drug often prescribed to treat insomnia.

The side effects of Ambien (and other sleep drugs containing zolpadem) can be disastrous.

The side effects can range from strange hallucinations to sleep driving, sleep talking, sleep eating, drawing on friends, nightmares, confusion, memory deficit and murder.

This journal article presented two cases of Ambien-associated homicide in which individuals killed their spouses but had no history of aggressive behavior.

The drug maker Sanofi and the FDA have known for years that Ambien has serious side effects. On the FDA website one can investigate adverse effects of specific drugs, if you are tenacious, have time, and dig through the information using the Freedom of Information Act.


Dr. Mark Mahowald, sleep researcher,  has observed nocturnal eating as a side effect of taking Ambien.

Mahowald, told CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone, “We’ve had people eat very inappropriate things that they would never eat while awake. Some example would be buttered cigarettes, salt sandwiches, raw bacon.”

The next morning, the night eaters remember nothing about their foraging. But they wake up to find telltale clues: mouthfuls of peanut butter, Tostitos in their beds, kitchen counters overflowing with flour, missing food, and even lighted ovens and stoves. Some are so embarrassed, they delay telling anyone, even as they gain weight.

“These people are hell-bent to eat,” said Dr. Mark Mahowald, who is director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis and is researching the problem. – NY Times article


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Sleep driving!

Forensic toxicologist Laura Liddicoat reported her findings after reviewing blood samples of 2,300 impaired drivers in the state of Wisconsin. In the 53 most extreme cases of erratic driving, it was found that all 53 drivers had taken Ambien and it was present in their blood.

“The driving was so bizarre – such as driving on the opposite side of the road, having head-on collisions,” says Liddicoat of the cases sent to her office for testing. “Simply bizarre behavior – it wasn’t simply weaving in the lane.” -CBS Evening News


Bizarre Behavior

Husband on Ambien said to his wife, “I saw Jesus in the living room and he was acting like a horse.”

There is a website where Ambien users report anecdotal evidence and stories of their personal experience using this sleep drug.  Although it is not a scientific evaluation, it is worth reading through for common side-effects. In this case there is a collection of over 1300 personal reports. Some stories are hilarious, except for the fact that they are probably real and not so hilarious in real life.

48 year old female reported, “Last Wednesday I took one of my pills and fell asleep very quickly. The next thing I remember was being in the Sherriff’s office arrested for a DUI.  Apparently I drove through someone’s yard. The police were called and they gave me a field sobriety test, didn’t pass, was handcuffed and taken to jail and booked. I was wearing my pajamas and slippers.”

What does Sanofi have to say for their cash cow Ambien?

On the Sanofi website we read, “There is a low occurrence of side effects associated with the short-term use of AMBIEN.”

This whitewashes the serious side effects of the drug. The following warning appears in The Medication Guide for Ambien on the FDA website:

AMBIEN may cause serious side effects, including:

    • getting out of bed while not being fully awake to do an activity that you do not know you are doing
    • abnormal thoughts and behavior
    • more increased outgoing or aggressive behavior than normal
    • confusion
    • agitation
    • hallucinations 
    • worsening of depression
    • suicidal thoughts or actions


Suicidal thoughts or actions.

This is not just a side effect for Ambien.

Several commonly prescribed drugs are known to cause suicidal thoughts and tendencies:

  • The stop-smoking drug, Chantix
  • Accutane, an acne drug
  • Singulair, an allergy drug
  • Certain epilepsy drugs
  • Tamiflu, a flu drug
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (low cholesterol is associated with increased rate of suicide)
  • Seroquel, antidepressant

Take care of yourself

There are many natural ways to approach the problem of insomnia. Please try these first. Seek the help of a functional medical doctor, naturopath or holistic nutritionist (contact Erin for consultation information).

It is important to build a solid foundation with a nutrient-dense eating plan that will balance blood sugar.

  • Quality animal protein (grass-fed red meat, free range chickens and eggs, wild caught fish)
  • Healthy natural fat (coconut oil, organic grass-fed butter, extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, cultured organic dairy)
  • Vegetables (6-9+ servings per day of fresh, colorful vegetables)
  • Whole fruit, possibly limited, depending on a person’s blood sugar control
  • Seeds, nuts

Nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods and quality supplements support the body and add relaxing minerals, amino acids and herbs. Saliva testing will help identify hormone imbalances that can be corrected naturally.

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Essential oils can help bring a restful night of sleep.


Medication always has side effects. Before using a prescription medication take the time to read the prescribing information on the drug manufacturer’s website, or ask  your pharmacist for a complete list of side effects and warnings. Sometimes the medication is worse than the condition for which it is prescribed.


I, Erin Chamerlik, am a Holistic Nutrition Educator, not a physician. As such, I do not diagnose or treat disease; rather I help support the healing response of the body through food, nutritional supplements, and relaxation exercises. This information is educational only and is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. The statements made by Erin Chamerlik or Get Better Wellness, Inc. have not been evaluated by the FDA . Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with your physician if you have any concerns about changing your diet or taking supplements.