According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep every night. Sleep disorders are among the most common disorders Americans suffer from. Ambien and Lunesta are prescription sleep aids doctors use to combat insomnia.
There is a unique group of medicines known as non-benzodiazepine sleep aids, including Lunesta and Ambien, which are also known as Z-drugs because they often use the letter z in their generic names. In the past, barbiturates and benzodiazepines were used as sleep aids that depress the central nervous system.
Despite this, they are chemically different from other depressants and generally milder than their predecessors. They are less likely to cause dangerous overdoses or addictions than other depressants, but if misused, they may still lead to these problems.
Both Lunesta and Ambien treat insomnia and other sleep problems for a short time. Although they are less potent than benzos or barbiturates, studies have shown their efficacy in helping people sleep faster and for longer periods.
Like other depressants, these drugs are used for short-term therapeutic purposes because their side effects, such as dependence and addiction, increase with long-term use. They may cause tolerance, resulting in a less effective sleep aid. As depressants, Lunesta and Ambien can cause intoxication similar to that of high alcohol doses, so these drugs can sometimes be used recreationally, which can result in addictions and withdrawals.
How Do Lunesta and Ambien Work?
In both Lunesta and Ambien, the central nervous system is depressed by suppressing excitability in the brain, which can facilitate sleep. Both of these drugs work by suppressing brain activity. GABAergic drugs, like alcohol, benzos, and barbiturates, affect gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger in the brain. In the brain, this natural neurotransmitter regulates excitability.
GABA might not relax your nervous system enough naturally when you suffer from insomnia or sleep disorders. This could be due to a biochemical or psychological problem that’s making you alert, anxious, and awake when you should be sleeping.
It slows down your nervous system by binding to its receptors in the brain. Both Ambien and Lunesta increase the effectiveness of GABA by binding to other spots on those same receptors. Because you will feel relaxed, you will be more likely to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
If you take either drug in large doses, you might get drowsy before you go to sleep or when you wake up. Ambien and Lunesta may have different onsets and durations of action, but they both affect the brain in similar ways. Both can cause slurred speech, loss of motor control, and disinhibition.
How Are Lunesta and Ambien Different?
Ambien and Lunesta are similar in their effects and how they work in the body. However, they differ when it comes to a standard dose and how long they last. Lunesta is slightly more potent and lasts a little longer than Ambien.
In general, Lunesta dosages are a bit less than Ambien’s. Ambien’s immediate-release tablets call for 5 mg per day for women and 5 mg to 10 mg per day for men. Lunesta’s tablets call for 1 mg per day for both men and women.
Compared to Ambien’s 1.5-hour half-life, Lunesta has a six-hour half-life. Unlike other sleeping pills, Lunesta stays active in your system for a longer period, so it might be a better choice if you wake up during the night or can’t sleep long enough.
Side Effects of Sleep Aids
If you take the drug in high doses or for a long time, you may develop tolerance and dependence. To counteract the drug, your brain might decrease some of its own inhibitory chemicals and increase excitatory chemicals. As a result, you will need larger or more frequent doses to achieve the same results.
A person may also develop a dependence on the medication if the brain relies on it to maintain a normal chemical balance. If the drug is stopped or cut back, withdrawal symptoms may occur.
There are only a few major drug classes that can cause withdrawal symptoms that are potentially life-threatening. Ambien and Lunesta, for example, suppress excitability to the point that the brain becomes accustomed to it. As soon as the drug is removed from your system, the nervous system will be overstimulated.
This is characterized by rebounding, in which you experience the problem you were trying to alleviate (in this instance, insomnia) when you stop taking the medication. Symptoms may include anxiety, irritability, tremors, muscle spasms, sweating, and mood swings.
It is most dangerous to experience seizures and delirium tremens, a condition characterized by confusion, panic, and heart problems. As compared to other depressants, Lunesta and Ambien withdrawal are less likely to cause these symptoms. However, if you’ve already experienced depressant withdrawal, it is possible.
After depressant withdrawal, a neurological phenomenon called kindling can create long-lasting changes in your brain that can further intensify your withdrawal symptoms.
Lunesta and Ambien Addiction: What Are the Signs?
Although there are so few early signs of Lunesta or Ambien addiction, it is possible to notice some effects over time. The consequences may be severe if you take other prescription drugs along with Lunesta.
The following are some of the short-term side effects of Lunesta:
- Next-day drowsiness
- Dry mouth
- Constant grogginess
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Euphoria (when used in high doses)
- Cold-like symptoms
The drug has the following long-term effects:
- Abnormal thoughts
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- Rebound insomnia
- Periods of confusion
Consider the following questions if you or someone you know is addicted to Lunesta:
- Can I control the amount of Lunesta I consume?
- Am I taking more than the doctor prescribed?
- Am I doctor-shopping or exhibiting drug-seeking behavior?
- Am I becoming tolerant or dependent on Ambien or Lunesta?
- Am I obsessing over the drug and feeling as if I need it to function?
Whether you’re addicted to Lunesta or Ambien depends on whether you abuse other drugs like depressants or opioids to enhance their effects. If you combine sleep aids with other depressants, you may want to consider getting treatment for your addiction.
What Is Involved in Lunesta or Ambien Addiction Treatment?
If you think you may have become addicted to a drug like Ambien or Lunesta, you may only have a chance of saving your life if you get help quickly. Although Lunesta addiction isn’t common, it will still follow a similar path to that of deadly drugs. Lunesta and Ambien are not benzodiazepines, but if it isn’t treated properly, withdrawal can result in severe consequences.
Detox is the first stage of the continuum of care. Drugs that interact with GABA can have severe consequences, making the process dire. Under professional guidance, withdrawal should be safer and less painful. In some cases, your dose must be gradually reduced to ensure your safety from symptoms such as seizures.
After completing this level of care, clinicians will advise you on your next steps. Each case is unique and will be treated accordingly. You may require more intensive inpatient care, or you may be released to your family for outpatient care. When you suspect that you may be addicted to Lunesta or Ambien, contact someone who can provide you with answers.
It is imperative that you seek help right away if you have used Ambien or Lunesta and might develop a chemical dependency. Without effective treatment, substance use disorders can worsen. In addition to taking over your health, relationships, and finances, addiction is a progressive disease.
It is, however, possible to address substance use problems with addiction treatment before they cause severe consequences. Before quitting cold turkey, when taking depressants like prescription sleep aids, it’s important to talk to your doctor.