Many of us have drug horror stories. We also have horror stories about doctors who’ve been too cautious or too careless in prescribing to us.
Some of us work out happy relationships with a particular drug, find a drug or a combination of drugs that works and keeps on working.
All sleep medications affect the sleep cycles; none gives “natural” sleep. All have next-day effects on memory and coordination. Some leave hangovers; some accumulate in the system, making the person become permanently drowsy; some are addictive.
Memory and coordination are the best documented side effects of the benzodiazepines. But there are others that are less well documented.
Ambien—though it works for me, as long as I keep the dose low and take it mainly in the last part of the night—has been associated with some pretty bizarre behavior, like sleepeating and sleepdriving.
I have a sense that the benzos and non-benzos and even Benedryl affect my vision the next day. When I’ve been in bright sunlight, then come in out of the sun, after doing something that speeds my heart and metabolism, like swimming or climbing the four flights to my office, I see a weird wavy effect off to the edge of my vision. It only happens after I’ve taken a sleep med. It’s hard to describe, something like the shadow a ceiling fan might cast against a fluorescent light; it strobes with my pulse. My vision is worsening alarmingly. I have a retinal wrinkle that puckers the visual field of my right eye so there are no straight lines on that side of the world. There’s also a “pseudo hole” in that retina that I’ve been told, grotesquely, to “keep an eye on”; and I do actually see it –on days after I’ve taken a sleep med— like a small, opaque contact lens that’s wandered off course, making a greenish dead spot; sometimes it zigzags across my line of vision.
Does anybody have anything like the effect I describe with vision?
Nobody knows what sleep medications do long-term because they haven’t been studied long-term.
–your sense of long-term effects on you?
Xyrem. Has anybody found this works for insomnia?
What I wrote about it:
After I was up an hour or so, came this amazing clarity. I felt so alert I hardly recognized the condition: I had a day writing unlike any I could remember, when the words, the ideas, the images just came pouring out, and the energy lasted well into the night (too well, in fact—it didn’t turn off). I had a mind not stumbling and sluggish and forgetful of what I was thinking the second before, but clear, searching, focused. I think the initial grogginess may have come from having slept so deeply: my body was in a state of shock from so unusual an experience. I now take it once, twice, at most three times a week, and not every day is like that first, but many days are. There are other things I like about it: it always works, unlike the benzos and non-benzos, which occasionally don’t grab hold, which leaves me facing the day both sleep-deprived and drugged. And it seems sometimes to leave me less hungry.
When I wrote that, I was more enthusiastic about this drug than I am now. I take it hardly at all anymore. The last stretch of the book, I was on leave of absence from teaching, I was staying at home, writing. Xyrem gave me a kind of sleep that gave me terrific concentration. But it doesn’t work so well when I have to respond to a lot of things coming at me—as on a day teaching. I also don’t like the way I look after I take it—pale and puffy (I’m having more problems with salt than I did a year ago) And it’s not working as well. If I upped the dose, it might, but I’d rather not. ( I only ever took 3.5 g, in the second part of the night.) I do still take it occasionally on days I get to stay home and write, but for everyday use, I’m back to Ambien. (No, I’m not on the take from Sanofi-Aventis.)