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What is Zolpidem?

1st May 2019

Zolpidem is a sedative medication, used to treat insomnia in adults. If you either have trouble falling asleep in the first place, or trouble staying asleep through the night, then the medication can be used to help you get a better night’s sleep.

How does it work?

We often think more about what the drug does than the way in which it does it. Zolpidem (also sold under the brand name, Stilnoct) affects the chemicals in your brain and produces a calming effect to help you fall asleep. Because of the way in which it causes sleepiness, Zolpidem is typically only used for very short-term treatment of insomnia for 1 or 2 weeks. If your insomnia is more long-term (due to chronic pain or a secondary medical condition) then Zolpidem is probably not the best line of treatment for you.

Usage, dosage and side effects

Zolpidem comes in tablet form, in strengths of either 5mg or 10mg, and these are designed to be taken orally. The dose is one tablet before going to bed, as the drug typically works very quickly after taking it. Most adults will take one of the higher strength tablets but those who are elderly or suffering from other medical conditions may be prescribed the lower dose.

It’s important that before taking a Zolpidem tablet, you know that you’ll be able to get 8 hours of sleep. The drug causes drowsiness so it’s not safe to take it to try and help you fall asleep, if you need to be up in 6 hours, for example.

You need to be particularly rigid with the timings of taking Zolpidem if you drive, as the drug impacts your ability massively. Not only does it make you sleepy and drowsy, but it can also slow down your reactions, affect your vision or make you feel less alert. Make sure there is at least 8 hours between taking a Zolpidem tablet and driving, and never drive if you don’t feel safe to do so.

Like with all medications, Zolpidem comes with a list of possible side effects. Though these won’t affect all users, the most common side effects are dizziness, a spinning sensation, drowsiness and strange dreams.

Precautions

Another extremely common side effect of taking Zolpidem is amnesia (memory loss). To reduce this risk, you should make sure that you are able to get the full 8 hours sleep that the drug induces, and then stop taking Zolpidem if you do notice any bouts of amnesia.

Because Zolpidem is a controlled drug, it’s important to be aware of any risks before commencing treatment. The first is tolerance, which means that your body gets used to the drug and it no longer has the desired effect. If you notice this happening then you should return to your doctor and see if they can adjust the dose for you, so that the drug becomes effective again.

Another risk is dependence, which is a risk with a number of controlled drugs. This risk increases based on the dose and the length of treatment, hence why Zolpidem is only recommended for very short periods of time. The risk also increases if you have a previous history of drug or alcohol abuse, so it’s important to tell your doctor of anything like this, as they may decide that Zolpidem is not appropriate for you. If you are taking the drug and do start to notice any feelings or signs of dependence then it’s important to see a medical professional about it.

When stopping treatment with Zolpidem, you should not stop taking the drug abruptly. This is because there is a risk of developing withdrawal symptoms, so stopping treatment gradually (rather than all at once) minimises this risk.

Like with any medication, Zolpidem is not suitable based on a number of medical conditions or other drugs you might be taking. Because of this, it’s important to discuss your full medical history with the person prescribing the drug for you, and always read the patient information leaflet enclosed with the medication to be sure that it’s right for you.