Look at the symptoms below. If you are taking ambien and have experienced any of these, it might not be “all in your head” rather directly caused by the drug itself:
intense panic attacks
feelings of dread and despair
Catastrophizing – “I’m finished, I’ll lose my job, die in pain, go to jail, etc…”
rapid heart beat, high temperature
inability to focus on anything but a constant stream of worries; difficulty concentrating on anything but worries
lack of appetite
On 2 separate occasions I experienced nearly all of these symptoms for a period lasting roughly 1.5 to 2 weeks. Although I’ve been free of major emotional damages throughout my life, I’ve personally endured stressful jobs, moves, situations (living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, running a business, physical competition) yet the emotional trauma I experienced due to the side effects of ambien pale in comparison to any physical trauma or stress I’ve ever endured. At one point in my life I could run a mile in under 4:30, yet all the pain during those runs, the training, and even the pressure of the race are a walk in the park compared to the ambien side effects.
It’s for this reason I am sharing my story. After doing some research I finally realized the root of this problem and once I made that discovery, many of these effects slightly diminished. I can happily say my life is back to normal now. Of course I was aware of ambien’s side effects, but for nearly 5 years never experienced the true extent of them, and even when I survived my first episode, never took the time to think it played a role. It’s for this reason I’d like to share my story in the hope that someone else might be spared the suffering I endured.
I’ve been taking ambien on and off for over 10 years now. I began using it after having a rough battle with insomnia during my time in college, after 2 or 3 sleepless nights due to stress it was prescribed to me. All I needed were a couple nights of the usual routine plus exercise to beat it. Since then I’ve always had Ambien with me for those rare occasions where I couldn’t sleep due to stress or travel.
The route of the problem for me is my OCD. This term, like many, gets thrown around these days, however, I can say that without a doubt OCD runs my entire life. The reason is that I have always justified it and allowed it control me are for the positive attributes that have made me a good employee and successful in the past: strict attention to detail, perfectionism, and organization. I can’t say exactly how my brain is wired because I’m not a scientist but languages tend to come easy to me, I think because my brain is very good at keeping track of words and organizing the formulas for using them. For years I overlooked the darker side. Some people might say they have OCD because they are slightly organized. Let me give you 2 examples of my OCD.
OCD means spending hours arranging each of my shirts in color coded order, going from lightest to darkest, and also based on the type of shirt: first come dress shirts which must be buttoned all the way up, then long sleeve shirts, then t shirts. If I have 2 grey t shirts and one has writing on it in a darker color, that would go first in the order. All must be facing the same direction and all hangers the same order. Dress shirts have their own type of hanger, as do the t shirts and long sleeve shirts. A new set of hangers must be disinfected before use, mainly by spraying windex on a paper towel.
That is just one example of the many ways I have lived my life. I don’t have this bad enough to impact my work performance but sadly I’ve given up many good opportunities with friends or relaxation in an effort to organize every facet of my life. I can’t take that time back but by sharing this story I can hopefully help others and also use it as a catharthis for my own challenges. I’m no longer afraid of myself, I don’t care who reads this about me, actually it might shed light on some of my behaviors for those who have known me for a long time.
So how does all this talk of OCD relate to ambien?
Although everyone is different, the normal disruption in my sleep cycle is related to stress. Keep in mind that OCD is an anxiety disorder. When people with OCD have stress in their lives, the symptoms tend to flair up. For me it’s orderliness. When I am stressed, the main coping mechanism I used was to try to organize everything around me in an effort to gain control over something which I could not, stress. In short I was barking up the wrong tree.
My most recent experience on ambien was a direct result of a nasty insomnia / anxiety cycle. It began with a work issue that happened later in the day time. I spent about 6 hours working until about midnight, yet the issue was unresolved. Rather than attempting to gradually shut down, I dived straight to bed, and like a car whose engine just turned off, my brain was working like crazy, I only slept due to exhaustion but was up 3 hours later. After a couple hours of useless tossing and turning I faced the day at 4AM, groggy and irritable. The next day was equally stressful, ie the stress did not let up. Assuming I would sleep well, I went to bed without the usual relaxation and lo and behold was awake at 3AM.
Now I faced a difficult decision: pull another long day or get 3 – 4 hours of sleep via ambien. I chose the ambien route, woke up, and had yet another tough day. I’ve also noticed that the day after ambien I’m normally not tired at all. This is a nasty side effect that kicks off the cycle I mentioned. In short, and this is the crucial point, like many drugs, ambien fixes one problem by creating another. The next night I also took ambien, had more stress due to work, and now find myself slowly spiraling down.
I began experiencing the symptons I described in the beginning. I didn’t understand how this was happening but the direct cause was using more and more ambien. The more I used the worse the symptoms became. I began getting stuck, worrying about things I normally would let pass, I became more distant – even if I tried to watch a movie, I was in a fog, I could follow the film but the worrying took about 30% of my attention off of it. If anything stressful happened my heartbeat would jump and I would flush red. Intense feelings of despair and dread would fill my body, and this horrible line of thinking, that I would lose everything, that the world was horrible and evil, etc, thoughts I normally wouldn’t have would take over. It’s as if I was drunk on a potion of worries, and despair.
I tried breathing exercises but to no avail, it actually was painful to breathe deeply since the ambien tends to give me a sore throat and inflame my sinuses. I would try exercising but I had nearly an unlimited reserve of energy which was due to the cortisol being pumped into my system, a physical reaction due to the fight or flight response the body has. When under severe duress, the body, completely apart from the 21st century, assumes I am under some type of attack and as a response keeps giving me adrenlaine, resulting in a flush of temperature, and rapid heart beating. I would go jogging for hours and still had energy to exercise afterwards. My physical body would be exhausted yet I could keep going.
So How Did This Happen?
It took nearly 10 years of ambien use for me to discover this nasty downside. The main reason is that in most cases I would rarely need it 2 nights in a row. It was only there for emergencies and over a year’s time I’d perhaps use it for 10 to 15 bad nights of sleep. Doctors always asked me this and when I’d show a previously prescribed bottle, rarely come in for a refill, they would assume I was OK.
I had a similar cycle about 6 years after first using it but assumed it was all related to stress and work. I ended up reducing the stress level and falsely felt that was the issue. This second attack that happened finally opened my eyes to the true cause. I don’t beat myself up about it, it’s simply a part of life. I’ve learned that whenever disrupting something as core to me as my health I should always ask what I’m putting into myself. As mentioned, I hope that by sharing my story I can help others. Of course, we are all slightly different in our physical and emotional make up but after reading of similar experiences on health forums I felt it would do no harm by adding my experience.