Rude awakening: Sleep aid Ambien leaves some older users groggy and clumsy

Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed — results of a new study suggest that the popular sleep aid Ambien, sold generically as zolpidem, can leave folks over 60 temporarily groggy and clumsy when awakened abruptly. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, the study assessed 25 healthy patients’ ability to walk along a sixteen foot by six inch beam and answer simple questions when awakened after getting two hours of sleep. Fifty-eight percent of the volunteers aged 60 and older who took zolpidem stumbled off of the beam compared to 27 percent of the younger participants and zero percent of all volunteers taking a placebo. Accordingly, the study authors conclude that older patients on the drug who get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom are more likely to fall.

ACSH’s Jody Manley, however, is quick to question the validity of the study. “You have to weigh the possible risks from the drug causing balance problems, to the problems older folks have if they are sleep-deprived.” As he does with many other such small studies, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross immediately asks why this study involved so few participants. “Since more than seven billion doses of zolpidem have been prescribed worldwide, I could easily recruit more than 25 people over 60 while walking along Broadway. Why do such small studies get published in the first place?”