Rochester, N.Y. - "I just couldn't sleep and I had terrible insomnia, I tried all the natural remedies that people suggest -- the melatonin -- and nothing was working,"Heather Saffer said.
But Ambien did work for Saffer. She took it every night for one year. But with a good night’s sleep also came some odd behavior.
"Sometimes if I would take it and not fall asleep right away, I would send texts to people or tweet people, just strange things that made no sense. I likened it to drunk texting, but you're Ambien texting," Saffer said.
She’s not alone. 13WHAM has heard stories from others, who were too embarrassed to talk on camera, who experienced side effects of drug like sleep walking, sleep eating – even sleep sex. Ambien’s been known to cause hallucinations. Those side effects have also sent almost 19,500 people to the emergency room in 2010. According to a recent study by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, that’s a 220% increase form 2005.
"Anecdotally, we've seen a number of cases over the years,” Chairman of Unity's Emergency Department Dr. Dustin Riccio said.
"We have had people here who hallucinated or sleepwalking doing that kind of stuff. There's the lesser extreme, where we see a lot of older adults who are prescribed Ambien at a higher dose and they wind up coming in."
The study also revealed that women and the elderly were more vulnerable to side effects of the drug – which is why the FDA came out with new regulations.
"Ambien has been over-prescribed in terms of dose so they're recommending dropping the dose from 10mg to 5mg," URMC Sleep Center Director, Dr. Donald Greenblatt said.
Dr. Greenblatt defends the drug, calling Ambien their “hypnotic of choice.” "It's the most efficient, most effective. It's got a short half-life, meaning it gets out of the body fairly quickly, it acts fairly quickly, and generally it has very few side effects," Dr. Greenblatt said.
Greenblatt said it’s when Ambien is coupled with other substances that people experienced enhanced effects. "It really wasn't the drug so much that lead to the sleep walking, it was other variables like sleeping fewer than seven hours. Having an associated behavioral disorder like depression being under stress and consuming alcohol or another drug with the sleeping pill," Dr. Greenblatt said.
While doctors like Greenblatt say Ambien is a great drug when used like it’s supposed to be, he recommends that it not be used longer than needed. "It's really best for a short period of time," Dr. Greenblatt said.
Saffer has been off the drug for two weeks. "I just wanted to try to sleep on my own," she said.