SUMAYYA
15 September 2022
Medically reviewed by
Freny Menezes
Pharm. D
ambien-cause-memory-loss
Table of Contents

People who take sleeping pills do get better sleep. Having a good night's sleep after numerous sleepless nights might be a relief. However, these advantages frequently end there. Regular use of these medications may result in tolerance, rendering them useless even for their intended use of promoting sleep.

When recommending sleeping drugs, doctors frequently discuss the side effects, including confusion, memory, and performance issues during the day.

The one part of cognition that is most obviously impacted badly and has serious, long-lasting impacts is memory. For instance, these pills can prevent people from forming or consolidating new memories; and even make them forget things that happened while they were on the medicine.

Long-term use of sleep medicines is frequent, even though they are typically prescribed for transient sleep interruptions. Ambien is one of the sleeping pills used to treat insomnia. Does Ambien cause memory loss? Can the memory loss caused by the drug be reversible? Let us see more into it. 

Ambien is an imidazopyridine with rapid sedative-hypnotic action. The effects of zolpidem are a reduction in waking episodes, an increase in total sleep time, and better sleep quality. 

It induces sleep by attaching to particular GABA receptors that control the regulation of chloride channels.

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Can Ambien Cause Memory Loss?

Ambien, particularly at larger doses, may result in memory loss as a side effect, a sign of amnesia. It may happen more frequently if you take the medication but do not get into bed.
 
A loss of memory that occurs right before the night is usually not a problem. It doesn't matter if you can't recall lying awake for a short while before going to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night. 

Ambien use and long-term memory issues can also be due to untreated sleep apnea. There are many accounts of persons taking sleeping pills who stay awake and out of bed and do not remember what happened after that.

Studies Related To Ambien-induced Memory Loss:

After taking Ambien, most people quickly fall asleep. But occasionally, people may find themselves in strange situations—like taking a shower—and have no idea how they got there.

Travelers taking Ambien to fall asleep on a flight may wake up before the drug takes effect leading to serious side effects.

There were numerous instances of impaired driving while on Ambien, with one notable example involving a person who woke up in police custody. 

Research by the National Center for Biotechnical Technology revealed that volunteers who took a dose of 20 milligrams of Ambien experienced impairment six hours later in some psychomotor measures, such as word recall.

How Does Ambien Affect Memory?

As a sedative-hypnotic, Ambien slows down the brain and central nervous system by activating neurotransmitters in the brain. Ambien starts to act rapidly, usually in about 20 minutes, although its controlled-release version is the best at maintaining sleep.

The usage of Ambien can result in amnesia, with abuse of other CNS depressants, including alcohol and benzodiazepines. People who use Ambien may not recall what happened to them while the drug was in their system since the brain does not preserve short-term experiences in long-term memory. 

Additionally, Ambien seems to impair short-term memory, making it impossible for users to recall events that occurred a few minutes earlier. It is more likely to occur in individuals taking high doses of Ambien. It may raise the risk of dementia or Alzheimer's because of the harm to short-term memory.

Other Side Effects Of Ambien

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat  
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Double vision
  • Respiratory depression
  • Muscle cramps
  • Skin rashes
  • Abnormal body movements
  • Complex sleep behaviors (sleepwalking, sleep-driving, etc.)
  • Next-day mental impairment
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression

Drugs That Cause Memory loss

Many of the drugs prescribed can cause loss of memory in the long run. Some of these include:

Benzodiazepines

It treats conditions like insomnia, Anxiety, and depression. Key brain regions, especially those involved in moving experiences from short-term to long-term memory, are less active when using benzodiazepines. Taking it for an extended period may cause memory loss. E.g., Alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide, clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, midazolam.

Statins

Drugs that lower blood cholesterol levels can also lower brain cholesterol and affect memory and other mental functions. These lipids play a critical role in neural connections in the brain, which underlie memory and learning. E.g., Atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, simvastatin

Anticonvulsants

Anticonvulsants prevent seizures by slowing the signal flow of the central nervous system (CNS). Any medication that reduces CNS signaling has the potential to impair memory. E.g., Carbamazepine, gabapentin, lamotrigine.

Tricyclic antidepressants

These antidepressants impair memory by inhibiting the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. Examples are Amitriptyline, Clomipramine, desipramine, and nortriptyline.

Incontinence drugs (Anticholinergics):

They reduce activity in the memory and learning areas of the brain. When the drugs are taken longer or combined with other anticholinergic medications, the risk of memory loss is increased.

 Antihistamines

Acetylcholine inhibits the memory and learning center processes of the brain. It may result in memory loss later.

Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics

The "Z" drugs can sometimes induce amnesia and cause risky or bizarre behaviors (such as cooking or operating a vehicle), with no memory of the incident upon awakening. E.g., Eszopiclone, zaleplon.

Dopamine agonists

The medications used to treat Parkinson's disease, which activates dopamine signaling pathways, may impair memory. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that the brain needs for processes including memory, learning, motivation, pleasure, and fine motor control.

Can Memory Loss Cause By Ambien Be Reverse?

Memory loss from Ambien may resolve with a change in medication or treating the underlying cause. According to the FDA Prescribing Information, users should only take Ambien after getting 7-8 hours of sleep-in to prevent memory issues.

The Food and Drug Administration mandated that the manufacturers of Ambien cut the dosage given to female customers in half in January 2013 because women's bodies break down the drug more slowly than men's.

Inform the prescribing doctor if the person experiences parasomnia or memory loss while on Ambien.
The person should discuss treatment options with the doctor if they have become dependent on Ambien.

Treatment options like dose tapering, medical detox, and addiction treatment- under medical supervision are acceptable depending on the situation.

Treatment For Memory loss

Treatment includes:

  • Switching prescriptions 
  • Cognitive therapy for issues like head injuries  
  • Therapy for problems related to mental health  
  • Rehabilitation for substance abuse  
  • Surgery and medications for blood clots, brain tumor  
  • Nutritional supplements  
  • Lifestyle tips to improve memory 
  • Get adequate sleep (7-8 hours).   
  • Eat a balanced meal with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein.  
  • Limit alcohol intake.  
  • Avoid smoking.   
  • Engage in mindful activities like yoga and relaxation techniques.  
  • Exercise regularly.

Bottom Line Form Practical Anxiety Solutions

People who struggle with sleep loss should consider adopting natural sleep measures. Researchers have suggested various sleep hygiene techniques to help individuals sleep better. Sleep medications may be the best option when sleep hygiene interventions are ineffective because not sleeping has risks, and lack of sleep undoubtedly lowers cognition.

If you are worried that one of your prescription or over-the-counter medications may be the trigger for memory problems, talk to your health professional about alternative treatment options. Use Ambien as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Do not stop taking Ambien without speaking to your doctor first.

  • Mintzer, M. Z., & Griffiths, R. R. (2016). Selective effects of zolpidem on human memory functions. Journal of Psychopharmacology. From https://doi.org/10.1177/026988119901300103 Obtain on 14/09/2022
  • Shih, I., Lin, C., Tu, F., Chang, M., Hsu, C., Chi, H., & Kao, H. (2015). An Increased Risk of Reversible Dementia May Occur After Zolpidem Derivative Use in the Elderly Population: A Population-Based Case-Control Study. Medicine, 94(17). From https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000000809 Obtain on 14/09/2022
  • Inagaki, T., Miyaoka, T., Tsuji, S., Inami, Y., Nishida, A., & Horiguchi, J. (2010). Adverse Reactions to Zolpidem: Case Reports and a Review of the Literature. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 12(6). From  https://do i.org/10.4088/PCC.09r00849bro Obtain on 14/09/2022
  • Chavant, F., Favrelière, S., Lafay-Chebassier, C., Plazanet, C., & Pérault-Pochat, C. (2011). Memory disorders associated with consumption of drugs: updating through a case/noncase study in the French PharmacoVigilance Database. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 72(6), 898-904. From  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2125.2011.04009.x  Obtain on 14/09/2022
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