Ask SleepBetter: Occasional Sleep Drug Use?

Have you wondered about something related to sleep, but just can’t find the answer? Lots of people do, and that’s why we created Ask SleepBetter. You can ask your own question on the SleepBetter Facebook Page, or by using our Ask SleepBetter contact form. We will try to answer as many questions as possible, but we are not able to answer queries about physical issues or medicinal issues. Those should be addressed face-to-face with a physician.

Today’s question is from a site visitor who wants to stop waking up early:

“I’ve always thought of myself as a good sleeper and one who performs best on a full night’s sleep. After working in a somewhat stressful but exciting job I found for the first time that my mind was racing quite a bit and it prevented me from falling asleep. My racing thoughts can often be simple excited about a possible plan of action I have or sometimes (especially if I end up awake for sometime) they lead to more anxious thoughts about the future. After doing even cursory research, I found that this sort of sleep stress is perhaps the most common among otherwise healthy adults and I’m starting to practice some of the basic techniques for a better night’s sleep.

Since there are so many articles about techniques for achieving a more calm mind before bed and maintaining sleep routines my question involves drugs like Ambien. I try to avoid taking it at all costs, but I must say, when I do it really works for me. I take half a pill on average about once every other week when I anticipate a particularly racing mind and know I have to accomplish a lot the next day. I fall asleep quickly and stay asleep on a dose of half a pill. I don’t want to make this a habit, and would prefer to not take it all. I wanted to know if there are any established best practices or recommendations when it comes to taking sleep remedy medication like Ambien?”
-Edward (via Email)

Thanks so much for visiting It sounds like you’re working toward improving your sleep, and we applaud you for that!

The first thing you should do when considering the use of even over-the-counter sleep drugs is have a discussion with your doctor.  Most all drugs have some kind of side-effect, and they should be talked about face-to-face.

After discussing with your doctor, one takeaway you should have is that all sleep drugs, including Ambien and other over-the-counter and prescription drugs, are designed for occasional use.  What “occasional” means is up for discussion.  We understand that some people do sometimes need a little help sleeping, but we hope that everyone will work, like you are, toward achieving sleep every night without medications.

Please continue your education about calming techniques, and make it a goal for 2015 to use sleep drugs as little as possible.