Some people can fall asleep anywhere and everywhere, but others like me have trouble sleeping on airplanes. Earplugs work well at loud hotels, but they can only do so much on planes. For those who don’t sleep well while traveling, they often take the sleep medication Ambien. It makes most people wake up feeling refreshed, though the deep slumber doesn’t always last long.
I have taken Ambien for some overnight flights and it worked perfectly well; I feel asleep, got in a good five or six hours of snooze time, and felt more refreshed once we arrived at the destination. Unfortunately, Ambien can also cause some trouble.
The dark side
Ambien can be a fantastic tool for people who need help sleeping on a plane or adjusting to a new time zone in a new location. However, it does not come without its downsides. If you take Ambien but do not go to bed soon enough, you will essentially begin dreaming while you’re still awake. You will probably do and say silly things, some of which you won’t even remember later on (believe me, it’s happened to me several times). Even if you do go to bed right away, if you wake up in the middle of the sleep, it has been medically proven that you may hallucinate.
I was traveling with someone once who took Ambien for a day-time international flight. He woke up a few hours later while still under the influence of Ambien, was totally out of it, and said he felt like he was walking up and down the aisles talking to people. He was still strapped in his chair. He fell back asleep, and when he woke up hours later, he didn’t even remember that happening. There have been reports of people taking Ambien who eat in their sleep, and others who get in their cars and drive while in a dream state, many of whom get in accidents. I have taken Ambien before and not gotten in bed fast enough, and woke up the next morning and realized I had sent some emails the night before that read like jibberish. (Side note: If you take Ambien, turn off the computer).
While you are not likely to get into a car or write cryptic emails while you are on a plane, you can still find yourself in embarrassing situations. Someone else close to me told me about a recent situation in which she took Ambien on a plane and awoke hours later to realize that she had been leaning on a fellow passenger and drooling on him while in a deep Ambien sleep.
How to use Ambien wisely while traveling
If you do decide to take Ambien while traveling, you need to be very careful. I am not a doctor, but this information comes from my experiences and the experiences of people I know.
- Do not take Ambien on a plane or train if you are traveling alone; it puts you in a very vulnerable situation. Only take Ambien if you are traveling with someone you trust, who can watch your back if you wake up confused or do something silly.
- Do not take Ambien on a short flight. It stays in your system for several hours (usually four hours minimum, though it can last up to eight), so if you take it on a very short flight, you risk waking up before the Ambien has worn off, and it won’t be pretty.
- If you take Ambien, take the regular form – not extended release (Ambien CR). It stays in your system much longer and can make you groggy for a long time. I made this mistake once in Scotland; it was my first night there and I wanted to sleep a full night and normalize. It caused me to sleep in well into the next afternoon, which is very uncharacteristic of me. Normal Ambien wears off, but extended release can overstay its welcome.