Published: March 1, 2011

sleeping man

Taking a popular sleep medication greatly increases your chance of falling if you get up while sleeping, according to a study by CU-Boulder associate professor Kenneth Wright of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory and integrative physiology department.

Fifty-eight percent of the older adults — ages 63-79 — and 27 percent of the younger ones who took a hypnotic, sleep-inducing drug called zolpidem showed a significant loss of balance when awakened two hours after going to sleep, according to the study. Wright’s research included 25 patients.

Zolpidem is widely prescribed worldwide and is known as Ambien, Zolpimist, Edluar, Hypogen, Somidem and Ivedal.

The findings are important because falls are the leading cause of injury for older adults — 30 percent of those 65 and older who fall require hospitalization. Furthermore, those who took zolpidem and woke up after two hours of sleep experienced enhanced sleep inertia, or grogginess, a state that temporarily impairs working memory.

“The balance impairments of older adults taking zolpidem were clinically significant,” Wright says, “and the cognitive impairments were more than twice as large compared to the same older adults taking placebos.”

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