Why Does Ambien Cause Memory Loss? (& Other Side Effects)

Medically Reviewed

Ambien (zolpidem) is classified as a sedative or central nervous system depressant. It produces problems with memory and other side effects due to its mechanism of action.

The active substance in Ambien, zolpidem, works by activating a receptor in the brain that is specific for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.

When it is activated, it works to modulate activity in the central nervous system by reducing the activity (firing rates) of other neurons. Thus, by slowing down the activity in the central nervous system, Ambien produces sedation.

It is an effective medication to help individuals who have trouble falling asleep.

Common Side Effects

Given its mechanism of action, its rapid onset of action, and its relatively short half-life (it does not remain in the body for a long period of time), Ambien is considered to have strong hypnotic (sleep-producing) properties and weaker anxiety-reducing and seizure-reducing properties.

It is primarily used as a short-term solution to help individuals fall asleep and remain asleep. The medicinal use of Ambien will produce sedation and drowsiness.

Side effects that can occur in some people include:

  • Dizziness, weakness, and lethargy.
  • Headaches and/or nausea.
  • Mild issues with movement or balance (ataxia).
  • Blurred vision, confusion, and anxiety (rare).

Side effects are rare in people who use the drug for medical reasons. People who abuse the drug and take higher doses than prescribed are more prone to experiencing side effects.

How Ambien Can Produce Other Issues

Because the mechanism of action associated with zolpidem facilitates the release of GABA, the drug can potentially interfere with cognition (thinking), judgment, and emotional control. GABA reduces the activity of the neurons that are responsible for learning and memory, making decisions, and inhibiting unwanted behaviors.

Some individuals may be sensitive to the effects of the drug and may experience negative effects when using Ambien. The dose used is often responsible for the specific negative effects that might occur.

Other variables that can increase the risk of negative effects include:


Young or older individuals are more sensitive to the effects of Ambien. In these people, even normal medicinal doses may produce negative effects.

Physical and Psychological Health

This may affect the efficiency of the drug and lead to problems.


This may affect how the drug is processed and delivered in the system.

Other Personal Factors

If a person is using other drugs that interact with Ambien, it can increase the potential negative effects. Weight is also a factr that affects how the drug is metabolized and its associated effects.

Ambien & Memory

As explained above, the mechanism of action associated with Ambien can affect a person’s ability to learn new information and remember it while under the influence of the drug.

Very young individuals, elderly individuals, people with physical or psychological problems, and people who use Ambien in conjunction with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol are at a greater risk to experience memory issues when they use Ambien. Typically, these individuals will need to take a lower dose of the drug or use another drug to counteract this unwanted effect.


A parasomnia is a behavior a person engages in while they are asleep that they would normally perform when they are awake. Parasomnias are rare.

The types of behaviors that may occur with Ambien use include walking, cooking, doing chores, and even driving while asleep. When the person wakes up, they typically have no memory of what they did. Obviously, this can be a potentially dangerous issue. If an individual experiences a parasomnia, they should discuss the situation with their physician immediately.


Rare cases of people experiencing delirium as a result of Ambien use have been recorded.

Delirium is a dangerous mental state that includes being disoriented, confused, potentially psychotic (experiencing hallucinations and/or delusional behaviors), and very lethargic or hyperactive.

When a person is delirious, they are a potential danger to themselves and may harm other people unintentionally.

Delirium represents a rare, very dangerous side effect of Ambien use.

The drug should be discontinued immediately if someone experiences delirium.


Seizures are the result of unrestrained activity in a portion of the brain. This leads to body convulsions.

Seizures may rarely occur in people who discontinue Ambien. They may be the result of a rebound effect — an effect that the drug typically controls that presents when the person stops using the drug.

Seizures as a result of Ambien discontinuation are extremely rare.

Untoward Interactions

Ambien may interact with other drugs.

Woman holding pink pills in one hand and a glass of water in the otherIndividuals who use other central nervous system depressant medications like benzodiazepines or prescription pain relievers like opioids should discuss their situation with their physician before taking Ambien.

People should not use Ambien with alcohol.

This can enhance the sedative effects of both substances and significantly suppress breathing in some situations.

Side Effects & Abuse

Ambien is only designed for short-term use, as tolerance to its effects occurs rapidly.

People who abuse the drug will typically begin taking extremely high doses of the drug to achieve the effects they desire. This results in even more tolerance to the drug’s effects and an increased potential to experience side effects.

There is a potential for individuals who have used Ambien for lengthy periods of time to also develop a withdrawal syndrome that may include potentially dangerous seizures. Always talk to a doctor before stopping use.

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