What is Ambien?


Ambien is a brand name for the generic drug zolpidem (pronounced zōl-pi’-dem), which is

short for zolpidem tartrate. Ambien, or zolpidem, is a sedative. In other words, it’s used to treat

problems associated with being able to go to sleep, or insomnia. Zolpidem goes to work in as

little as 15 minutes. An added advantage to this drug is that it has a brief half-life of up to three

hours. In simple terms, a short half-life means that it doesn’t usually stay in your blood stream

for a long time and your body is able to expel it.

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When you buy ambien, it’s intended to be a short-term fix to help someone fall asleep. In this case,

short-term refers to a time of between two to six weeks. When effective, Ambien helps you get to

sleep at a faster rate than what you’ve been experiencing and assists you in getting a full night’s



Ambien is also used to treat some brain disorders. It is also called a hypnotic drug. Zolpidem

is great at starting someone into sleep. In order to maintain sleep, a type of zolpidem needs to

be prescribed which is in a controlled-release form, often signified with the letters “CR” in the

name, such as Ambien CR.


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Known as a nonbenzodiazepine, Ambien is a psychoactive drug similar to a benzodiazepine in

how it works, but on a molecular level, it’s very different. Zolpidem is similar, because it has a

hypnotic effect on the body. In pharmacy lingo, a nonbenzodiazepine drug is shortened down to

the phrase “Z-drug.” In layman’s terms, this drug affects a part of the brain, the benzodiazepine

location of nerve endings in the brain, which is the reason for the long descriptive name.


The chemical name for zolpidem is N,N,6-trimethyl-2-p-tolylimidazo[1,2-a] pyridine-3- acetamide L-

(+)-tartrate (2:1). Zolpidem comes in a crystalline form and is off-white to white in color. It can

slowly dissolve in alcohol or water.


Inactive ingredients that are in an Ambien tablet include titanium dioxide, sodium starch glycolate,

polyethylene glycol, micro-crystalline cellulose, magnesium stearate, lactose and hydroxypropyl

methylcellulose. Each five milligram tablet also contains polysorbate 80, iron oxide coloring and FD&C Red Number 40.

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Five milligram Ambien tablets are usually pink and have the letters “AMB 5” imprinted on one

side of the tablet. The 10 milligram Ambien tablets are white and show “AMB 10” on one side

of the pill. This medication should be stored at room temperature. It should be kept away from

heat and moisture.


How Should Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) Be Taken?


Ambien is usually taken in a tablet form with some type of liquid, but not with an alcoholic

beverage and it should never be taken on the same day that alcohol is consumed (see Ambien

Overdose Symptoms, below). It seems to have a greater effect on elderly patients and those who

are in a weakened state. Ambien can give those who have a history of liver malfunctions a longer

and more pronounced effect, since the medication isn’t cleared out of the body as effectively as

those with normal liver processes. Also, the effects of Ambien can be diminished if it is taken

during or quickly after a meal, so time should pass after a meal, before taking Ambien. This drug

needs to be taken immediately prior to going to bed.


How Does Ambien Work?


Zolpidem is very selective in keying into a certain part of the brain, specifically named the

GABAA-benzodiazepine receptor complex to increase slow wave sleep (SWS). SWS is

sometimes called Type 3 sleep, or deep sleep. Ambien has no effect on Type 2 sleep, which is a

period of light sleep.


Going to sleep involves three initial stages, each of which lasts anywhere from five to 15 minutes

long. So, Ambien works to get you to the final stages of sleep. These stages are referred to as the

non-rapid eye movement, or NREM types of sleep. During NREM sleep, the body regenerates

and repairs muscle and bone cells, regenerates the immune system and allows the brain to

recover from the activities that it performs throughout the day.


In a nutshell, Ambien changes how your brain works by adding a calming effect.