Asleep At The Wheel

Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 11:09am

Study finds even occasional use of popular sleep aid increases risk of car crashes.

This, year doctors will prescribe sleeping aids to 60 million Americans. Ambien and its generic form Zolpidem are among the most commonly prescribed.

Fast-acting and potent, it can stay in your system for up to 12 hours. Most side effects are minor. But a less common side effect, known as "complex sleep related behaviors," is cause for concern.

"That's the sleep-driving, the eating without awareness and the sleep walking," says Dr. Jessica Vensal Rundo, of the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center.

The drug's directions are clear: go to bed for at least 7 to 8 hours and do not drive until fully awake. Sleep driving is one of the possible side effects.

Ambien is designed to act quickly and it does. "It's actually just as bad as drinking and driving," says Dr. Deborah McAvoy, Director of the Driving Simulation Lab at Ohio University.

Dr. McAvoy and a team of researchers are using a driving simulator to study and help improve road safety.

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