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Is There a Connection between Zolpidem and Depression?

By Cheryl Myers
Updated May 17, 2024
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Zolpidem is a medication that is used to treat insomnia. Researchers have found a connection between zolpidem and depression, but the connection is not absolute. There are theories about why zolpidem might actually cause depressive episodes, but any medication that affects neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, can cause depressive episodes in some people. Although there is not any research that indicates that zolpidem and depression have a cause-and-effect relationship, many experts believe that any medication that directly or indirectly regulate neurotransmitters can have effects on mood, particularly among children and adolescents.

Certain neurotransmitters in the brain regulate emotions, mood, sleep and appetite, among other things. There are more than 30 neurotransmitters to regulate certain brain functions, but researchers have identified only three that play a role in depression. Namely, these chemicals are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

When the brain lacks one or more of the neurotransmitters that are needed for optimal brain functioning, a person might experience mood changes and changes in eating or sleeping patterns. If an individual experiences insomnia, then the body cannot synchronize brain chemicals during the sleep cycle, which can cause clinical depression. As a result, a physician might recommend or prescribe a medication that will promote sleep. One of these medications is zolpidem, which can help the patient fall asleep fast and stay asleep for a solid seven to eight hours a night.

Antidepressants also are regularly prescribed to treat signs of depression. Although zolpidem is not an antidepressant, it is commonly prescribed along with antidepressants and cognitive therapy or behavior therapy. It appears that medications used for directly regulating brain chemicals can actually cause depressive or suicidal episodes in some people, according to researchers.

The connection between zolpidem and depression is found in the way the medication affects regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain. Zolpidem promotes sleep so the brain can manufacture and regulate brain chemicals. The brain, however, might not manufacture the specific neurotransmitters that the patient needs.

Doctors typically do not know what specific neurotransmitters are needed in a patient. If a patient has never been diagnosed with clinical depression and has only recently begun experiencing changes in mood, a doctor might prescribe a sleep aid first. Sometimes, this is all that is needed to correct the problem, and the physician can terminate the use of other medication. Other times, patients might not respond well to certain medications and will put the patient on zolpidem instead.

Some patients find that there is a connection between zolpidem and depression. They might experience fatigue, drowsiness or worsening of symptoms. As a result, the prescribing physician will either make changes to the dose or change the prescription altogether.

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