Ambien and Drowsy Morning Driving

Medically reviewed in February 2021

You tossed and turned last night, so you got up and took a zolpidem (brand name: Ambien). Finally, sleep! As you hop into your car the next morning -- coffee in hand -- that Ambien still isn’t in your system. Or is it?

Since January of this year, the FDA has been increasing its surveillance of all sleep aid medications and their after-effects the next day. This is because a recent study showed that eight hours after taking 10mg of zolpidem (regular release), 15% of women still had blood levels of zolpidem that would impair their driving and raise the risk of an accident. For those that took 10mg of the Extended Release, that percent rose to 33% eight hours after taking the medication. As a result, the FDA recommended that the suggested dosage for women be cut in half.

But there’s more cause for concern: many medications can prolong the effect of zolpidem. There are the usual culprits of “sedating medications” such as benzodiazepines (ativan, xanax), alcohol, narcotic pain medications (vicodin, percocet) and antihistamines.

But did you know that other medications that seemingly have nothing to do with the nervous system can also increase the length of time the sleep medication remains in your system? These medications include Clarithromycin, erythromycin, Diflucan, HIV medications and Amiodarone.

There is also large variability in how long these medications last in different people -- based on factors from gender to size to genetics.

To stay safe and still get the rest you need, take the LOWEST dose possible, and allow MORE than 8 hours from the time you take the medication to the time you drive. Remember, being under the influence of these medications while driving is no safer than driving after drinking alcohol. Use caution and common sense -- for your own sake and for that of other drivers on the road.

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