Monday, October 25, 2021

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You’ve heard of sleepwalking, but what about sleep-driving?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve posted this article before, but it was so popular we’re spotlighting it again for all our new readers who missed it the first time around. 

We RVers spend a lot of time driving. We’ve, sadly, gotten good at “distracted driving” – settling arguments with our kids as they scream in the back seat, telling our dog to quit barking at a passing truck, ignoring a ringing cell phone when you just know it could be something IMPORTANT!

Anyone who drives knows all about this. But I’ll bet you have never heard of something a whole lot more dangerous. I’m talking about sleep driving! Driving while asleep? Yeah, right. Not possible. Well, don’t laugh! It’s no joke. It happens, and usually to people taking Ambien, a sedative prescribed to combat insomnia.

Sleep driving is like sleepwalking, only instead of getting up and taking a trip to the fridge in the middle of the night, people, or “Ambien Zombies,” as they’re called, drive their vehicles while asleep with absolutely no memory of doing so.

Ambien is part of a group of drugs called “sedative-hypnotics” which were designed not to be addictive or not to leave users feeling groggy the next morning – something that most previous sleeping pills had done. The FDA warns that anyone taking any sleep medications, or “sedative-hypnotics”  (mainly Ambien and Lunesta), may be at risk for sleep driving. “After taking Ambien, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing,” one label warms. “The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night. Reported activities include: driving a car (“sleep-driving”), making and eating food, talking on the phone, having sex, sleep-walking.” YIKES!

IN 2011, Lindsey Schweigert took an Ambien before going to bed. Hours later, she woke up in custody, charged with a DUI, and had no idea how she got there. The story went like this: Schweigert woke up, bathed, took her dog outside and then climbed in her car. She began driving to a local restaurant and crashed into another vehicle shortly after that. Schweigert is one of many who have suffered DUI consequences due to sleep driving while on Ambien.

In 2008, actor Jack Nicholson told a photographer, “I took Ambien once. I fell asleep and almost drove off a cliff 50 yards from my house.” Actor Steve Martin also commented that he had woken up one morning to find out he had won $1,000 in an online poker match. He had no recollection of playing poker due to an Ambien-induced stupor. Go, Steve!

Even though Ambien bottles warn of these dangers, no official studies have been done or research conducted on the subject (let’s get on that, folks!).

So, needless to say, if you take Ambien, well, maybe double lock yourself in your bedroom tonight. We don’t want your traveling partner waking up in your RV bed, while you’re sound asleep in the driver’s seat, zooming down the highway, at 3:30 a.m. No thanks.

##RVT1014

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Bob p
2 months ago

Several years ago back in the late 80s I had to work the graveyard shift (3rd) getting off at 7am. I had a 27 mile trip home, including a 10 mile county road into a 3/4 mile S turn hill and a hard left curve at the bottom. The first week I did ok then the second week I felt very tired leaving work and was nodding badly before i got to this hill, at the bottom of the hill and around the curve I suddenly became alert, to this day I still don’t know how I negotiated that hill and curve, because I know that I was asleep.

Tom
2 months ago

I remember headed over sierras on 80 and thinking I just need to close one eye for a minute. I quickly realized this was not a good idea, pulled over at rest stop.

KellyR
2 months ago

Fell asleep at the wheel ONCE. I was a kid on the way home from college. An alert trucker saw something wrong and blared his horn and probably saved my life. I have NEVER allowed myself to “over drive” since.

Luke
2 months ago

Just as bad, if not worse than Ambien sleep-driving, is “drowsy” driving. I believe there are a lot more drowsy drivers than there are those who are on Ambien. I had one good friend killed by a drowsy driver several years ago and recently lost another good friend (He survived the initial crash but was in a diminished state since) to that same drowsy driver who drove off a freeway here in Oregon and ran three law enforcement officers over as they were stopped assisting a disabled motorist. Drowsy driving or sleep-deprived driving is the operation of a motor vehicle while being cognitively impaired by a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents, and it can impair the human brain as much as inebriation can.

Dianne Belk
2 months ago

This happened to me! After my mother died in 2008 I was having trouble sleeping for the first time in my life.. The doctor prescribed Ambien 5 mg (baby dose I am told). On my way home from work I filled the car up with gas (little Saturn would go a week on a full tank). I was looking forward to a good nights sleep after three sleepless nights. I woke up in my car at 3 am. I was Parked in my backyard where I never parked, in my nightgown, barefoot, engine running, every light in my house on, doors of the house wide open, gas was at the half mark, and my legs and bare feet covered in red mud! I will never know where I went or what I did but the remaining Ambien got destroyed and as a nurse when my patients listed Ambien as one of their medications I wisely advised…BE CAREFUL! I honestly did not believe the sleep driving stories until it happened to me.

Graybyrd
2 years ago

Same deal here: drove big rig for several years; when pushed hard by dispatch, would get over-tired and then experienced “micro-sleep” episodes. Terrifying! Later I had nightmares about driving asleep. All truckers know, America has far too few rest areas, too little parking capacity, and puts all the burden on the driver to find somewhere to park safely and get rest. Too many times to get that life-saving 20-minute cat nap to fight micro-sleeps, I’d do like many truckers: temporarily park on the side of an interstate on/off ramp. There was no rest area within miles. As for Ambien and other common medications: that’s an automatic “out of service” flag for any driver, big-rig or four-wheeler. Maybe Ambien means a lock on the bedroom door?

Gordy
11 months ago
Reply to  Graybyrd

Remember the old saying “1/2 hr will get you 4hr”?

Tommy Molnar
2 months ago
Reply to  Graybyrd

As a retired OTR driver, I too know about micro-sleep. I would say if a driver says he’s never experienced it, he is, well, kidding himself, and trying to kid us.