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Is There a Connection between Zolpidem and Memory Loss?

By Susan Abe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Zolpidem is a popular medication used to treat insomnia and one of the drugs in the newer generation of sedatives designed to safely provide a good night's rest. Meant to be taken on an empty stomach, zolpidem works very rapidly to depress the central nervous system (CNS) by hitchhiking on the same neurotransmitter system used by alcohol and benzodiazepines. After successfully allowing its taker to drift quickly asleep, zolpidem is metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. Generally safer than the heavy-duty tranquilizers of the 1950s, zolpidem is not without its own safety issues and side effects. Zolpidem and memory loss is one such well-documented issue.

All sleep aids, including alcohol, can have a negative influence on memory preservation. In fact, the very act of falling asleep is beyond many persons' ability to recall when they awaken the following morning. Vivid dreams are frequently difficult to remember the moment that true wakefulness occurs. The association of memory loss with sleep itself is not uncommon. Those who suffer memory loss simply forget that they forgot something.

The connection between zolpidem and memory loss is more problematic. The medication's side effects include that of anterograde amnesia, a condition similar to that of an alcoholic blackout, after ingestion of the drug. While zolpidem is designed to help an insomniac fall asleep quickly, its effects do not extend to aiding the sufferer in remaining asleep after three to four hours. Occasional reawakening occurs after this initial drop-off in the medication's efficacy. These episodes of wakefulness in which the insomniac can eat, have sex, drive or converse normally without remembering the activity later are actually demonstrations of sleepwalking and examples of the connection between zolpidem and memory loss.

Sleepwalking associated with zolpidem is a significant enough issue to be considered the most important fact to know when taking the drug, according to the US's Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Medication Guide for this medication. Use of alcohol while taking the drug is known to increase the chances of central nervous system sedation, respiratory sedation, sleepwalking and other effects related to zolpidem and memory loss.

In addition to memory loss, other side effects of this medication include grogginess the following day, dizziness, mood changes and worsening of depression symptoms. Zolpidem can also interact with other substances and medications. Alcohol can intensify its effect. Food — especially chocolate — is known to decrease its effectiveness. Interactions with other common medications such as sodium oxybate, rifampin, ketoconazole or other sedatives are also known to occur.

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