So, I finally decided to see a doctor. While he could agree that I do have insomnia in the genes, he also felt it was the stress in my life keeping me up. He recommended some relaxation techniques like massage and--much to my shock--acupuncture. I appreciated those tips, but by that point, I'd had such a horrible week of sleeping that it was affecting my work. So, I told my doctor that what I wanted in the short term was just a few solid nights of heavy sleep--i.e., something stronger than Benadryl--and then I'd work on long-term solutions. After discussing assorted drugs, he finally sent me off with a prescription for Ambien. Now, I'd never heard of it, but it's a sedative, which was all I needed to know. Or so I thought.
At the pharmacy, I had a standard new prescription discussion:
Pharmacist: Have you taken this before?
Pharmacist: Okay, well, it kicks in really fast, so don't expect to do anything else once you take it.
Pharmacist: And it lasts 7-8 hours, so it's not for naps.
Me: Okay. That's good, actually. Are there any side effects?
Pharmacist: Well...in some rare cases--really rare--people have gotten up in their sleep.
Me: Like sleepwalking?
Pharmacist: Yeah. And they do stuff, like, go to the refrigerator and eat.
Pharmacist: And sometimes they get in their cars and drive.
Me: Oka--wait, what?
Yes, that's right, apparently "in rare cases," people who take Ambien get up in their sleep and do wacky stuff. Who knew? Well...probably you did because everyone else in the world except for me has long since heard of this stuff. Every time I start to tell this story, I get to the "My doctor prescribed me Ambien" part, and immediately, the response is: "Oh, yeah, the one that people drive in their sleep with?"
It's crazy. This article in the New York Times explains these rare cases in which people have indeed been found sleepwalking and getting in car accidents from driving in their sleep! There have also been people who apparently went into fits of rage on Ambien. Most of these incidents occurred with people who drank beforehand--but not always. And in one case, a woman didn't drink--but then she got up after the Ambien and sleepwalked into the kitchen to get wine!
Since Ambien is one of the most prescribed sleeping aids in the country, it stands to reason that these incidents really and truly are rare. If this drug really was causing widespread chaos, the FDA would have pulled it. Still...this is exactly the kind of thing that sets my phobias rollin'. When I was little, my dad found me sleepwalking twice, and even then, I was freaked out at the idea of doing stuff...yet not knowing I was doing it. Now, in adulthood, I don't have my dad in the other room to steer me back to bed. Instead, I keep seeing myself walking off the balcony or something. Maybe even into that spider that lives on the patio door.
So, no Ambien for me. The prescription sits here on my desk, unopened. Maybe if it comes down to that or From Gs to Gents again, I'll roll the dice and take the pill. In the meantime, I've fallen back on old tactics. I find the most successful one is to simply stay awake until exhaustion hits me. This works, but it pretty much destroys any pretense of a normal schedule and keeps me up later and later each night. In fact, I think my body has a 26-hour Circadian rhythm or something. Regardless, while I'm still not getting great rest, I'm now getting good rest, and the closest I'm coming to driving-while-sleeping is if I have to be anywhere before noon. But that's how it's always been.