NewScientist.com news service
New evidence has linked a commonly prescribed sleep medication with bizarre behaviours, including a case in which a woman painted her front door in her sleep.
UK and Australian health agencies have released information about 240 cases of odd occurrences, including sleepwalking, amnesia and hallucinations among people taking the drug zolpidem.
While doctors say that zolpidem can offer much-needed relief for people with sleep disorders, they caution that these newly reported cases should prompt a closer look at its possible side effects.
Zolpidem, sold under the brand names Ambien, Stilnoct and Stilnox, is widely prescribed to treat insomnia and other disorders such as sleep apnea. Various forms of the drug, made by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis, were prescribed 674,500 times in 2005 in the UK.
A newly published report from Australia’s Federal Health Department describes 104 cases of hallucinations and 62 cases of amnesia experienced by people taking zolpidem since marketing of the drug began there in 2000. The health department report also mentioned 16 cases of strange sleepwalking by people taking the medication.
In one of these sleepwalking cases a patient woke with a paintbrush in her hand after painting the front door to her house. Another case involved a woman who gained 23 kilograms over seven months while taking zolpidem. “It was only when she was discovered in front of an open refrigerator while asleep that the problem was resolved,” according to the report.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, meanwhile, has recorded 68 cases of adverse reactions to zolpidem from 2001 to 2005.
The newly reported cases in the UK and Australia add to a growing list of bizarre sleepwalking episodes linked to the drug in other countries, including reports of people sleep-driving