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Ambien “Awakenings” Explained

July 3, 2009

Why do some people who take the sleep aid Ambien sleepwalk and engage in other activities they don’t recall in the morning?

Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center are helping explain the phenomenon. In an animal study, they found inhibitory neurons responsible for stopping neural activity are shut down by the drug. But excitatory neurons, which transmit activity, are free to wake up, and because the inhibitory neurons responsible for keeping them in check are effectively asleep at the wheel, people get up and move around even though they aren’t really awake.

In some cases, people have even been reported to eat and talk on the phone during these episodes, and even more troubling, get in the car and drive.

While they aren’t sure exactly how Ambien shuts down these inhibitory neurons ““ or how it allows excitatory neurons to take over ““ the investigators do believe more study could shed additional light on the effect.

“The paradoxical activation of brain circuits by a powerful sedative definitely needs more attention in additional studies both human and in animal models,” study author Molly M. Huntsman was quoted as saying.

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