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


By Emily Woodbury

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.

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Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

We’ve been hearing about “micro-naps” for years now, and that was BEFORE Ambien.

During my decades of OTR trucking (90% at night), more times than I care to admit I found myself starting to doze (zone out) and would quickly pull off at the next exit (or wide spot) and take a 15-20 minute power nap. Luckily I only drove out west where you CAN stop on an offramp and nap. Everyone who drives at night experiences this – whether they’re willing to admit it or not.

1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

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?

Wormhole Wanderer
1 year ago

I don’t know about sleep-driving, but I once drove through a wormhole on Rt 15 through PA… my passenger commented on passing the same exact restaurant twice, and examining the GPS backtrack showed our position jumping backwards by 40 miles in one second, and then redriving the same road again — two northbound passes, no southbound between. Swear we were awake and sober!

1 year ago

I lost 5 miles one night on the northbound side of the 405 in the Santa Monica area years ago. I woke just moments before my exit. Measured it another day. Scared the heck out of me!