Waking Blackouts On Sleep Drugs Can Lead to Dangerous Mishaps


In her blog on USC Annenberg’s Reporting on Health, journalist Martha Rosenberg reviews some of the quantitative evidence and qualitatively bizarre anecdotal evidence of the dangers of “waking blackouts” that not uncommonly occur under the influence of sleep aids like Ambien, Restoril, Lunesta, Sonata, Dalmane, Halcion and various other benzodiazepines.

“Under the influence of Ambien, people say they have sexted married friends, drawn penises in the middle of their handwriting, ordered expensive and unwanted items online and one person ‘tried to legally change my name on the computer,’ reports Rosenberg. “One woman I interviewed drank an entire bottle of black shoe polish under the influence of Ambien.”

Rosenberg discusses last year’s FDA recommendation to reduce the standard night-time dose of various sleep medications due to frequent instances of “next-morning impairment.” She also recounts that, “In 2012, in San Antonio, Julie Ann Bronson, a 42-year-old flight attendant was tried for running over a mother and her two daughters while ‘sleep driving’ and her life was ‘ruined’ by Ambien, says her lawyer. In 2006, a 36-year-old lawyer from Andover, Massachusetts, was sleep-driving on Ambien when he struck and killed a man who was changing a tire alongside his wife and young son, according to Marie Claire magazine. Two years later, a 56-year-old woman also sleep-driving while on Ambien killed a mother of 11 children.”

According to Rosenberg, the Mayo clinic in Rochester no longer prescribes Ambien to inpatients “because they are four times as likely to experience falls from the drug” and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration “found Ambien-related emergency department visits almost doubled from 2009 to 2010 from just four years earlier.”

Rosenberg also discusses a British Medical Journal article that found a 5.3-fold higher risk of death and a 35 percent higher risk of cancer amongst users of sleep medications, and quotes one co-author of the study stating, “We tried every practical strategy to make these associations go away, thinking that they could be due to use by people with more health problems, but no matter what we did the associations with higher mortality held.”

Getting to sleep in a post-Ambien society (Reporting on Health Member Blog, September 20, 2014)


  1. But of course the pharmacautical companies bear no responsibility for promoting these drugs nor do doctors who prescribe them, often off label. You may be in prison for years or you may be dead or suffering long-term disability but that’s sad day for you, isn’t it?

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  2. 5 years ago I got a DUI while driving on Lunesta, when I ran straight into the back of another vehicle at a red light with my 16 year old daughter was with me, causing me to have CPS involved and threatened with losing my child. I do not remember any of it and I woke up in the hospital the next morning under a mental health watch. Apparently I was arrested and I went to jail, don’t remember, then because of my irratic behavior, they sent me to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation. I don’t remember any of this. I was treated like a criminal and drug addict for the next 2 years. Regular humiliating urinalysis, weekly probationary meetings and the most intense drug and alcohol classes they could impose. And then there were the 18 months of having a CPS case open. To top it off, it cost me a small fortune and my auto insurance had only recently gone down. Not where it was originally, but FINALLY, less. I guess (of course) I failed the roadside test that night but blew a zero on the alcohol test. They thought it was incorrect. They had me blow twice. Zero. I felt like a liar explaining this to the judge. And my public defender was useless. I never met the guy until the day of court. He knew very little of my case and was of no help. It was a nightmare. This drug is a liability. I wish I could tell someone my story, just, if nothing else, to be heard.

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