Ambien For Jet Lag: Are the Side Effects Worth It?

Stacked stones in front of sunset sky - Ambien for jet lag
by Anisa // 38 Comments

One of the worst things about traveling for me is jet lag.  I have a very strong body clock and I have a hard time adjusting to time differences.  When I used to do a lot of international travel with work, I knew I needed to do something to make the jet lag easier.  

I spoke with a doctor and he recommended I try Ambien CR, a prescription sleep medicine, to help me sleep.  Taking Ambien for jet lag definitely helped, but it did also cause some issues.

Important: I am not a medical expert and this post is not based on medical research or meant to be medical advice.  I am not suggesting that you take Ambien for jet lag or don’t take it.  You should consult your doctor to make sure the decision is right for you.  I just wanted to share my experience and opinions.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

alarm clock
Traveling across timezones can definitely mess with your body clock and sleep.

What is Ambien?

Ambien is one of many prescription drugs that help sleeping disorders.  It helps you fall asleep. 

Ambien CR (Controlled Release) has the same active ingredient (Zolpidem) as Ambien but slowly feeds your body the medicine throughout the night to help you stay asleep.  Other prescription sleep medicines to help you sleep include Lunesta, Silenor, Rozerem, Restoril, Halcion, Sonata, and Belsomra. 

You should check with your doctor to see which one is best for you.  In my case, my doctor recommended Ambien CR.

I have spent a lot of time flying in and out of NY......-"Ambien For Jet Lag: Are the Side Effects Worth It?"- Two Traveling Texans
I have spent lots of time flying in & out of NYC.

Taking Ambien for Jet Lag

When I travel I normally don’t have issues falling asleep, however, I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep.  I would get jet lag after returning home as well.  First, I tried Benadryl to deal with my jet lag.  When that didn’t help, I tried both Ambien and Ambien CR – not at the same time though!

The Ambien label instructs you to not drink alcohol and also to make sure you can devote at least eight hours to sleep before you take it.  I tried my best to make sure I followed those guidelines.  It is a prescription drug, so not something you should take lightly.

The Ambien would begin working fast.  Literally, a few minutes after I would swallow the pill my eyelids would feel so heavy it would be difficult for me to keep them open.  Then, I would sleep so deeply for a solid 7-8 hours.  I would wake up feeling refreshed because I had slept so well.

computer and coffee with text overlay -

Ambien Side Effects

It was not all good though.  Taking sleeping pills for jet lag can have side effects.  Ambien did affect my mind and of course, I didn’t realize it at the time.  

The best example of how the medication affected me was when I was in Australia.  The taxi picked us up at the hotel and we put our bags (with computers in them) in the back and headed to the office.  Well, when we arrived at the office, I totally forgot that my computer was in the trunk and went to the office without it.  

I quickly I realized I had forgotten it, but the taxi had already left.  I called our hotel, the Westin Sydney, and they were so helpful.  They went through the security tape, got the taxi information, and contacted the taxi company.  I was so grateful and lucky to get my computer back.  If this had happened somewhere else, it probably would have been lost forever!

There was another time when I only put eyeliner on one eye.  That was awkward.  I am not sure how I didn’t notice it until after I left the hotel.  Again, that is not like me.  Ambien effects my thinking ability!

Even with a comfy hotel bed, it can be hard to get sleep when you are jet lagged. - "Ambien For Jet Lag: Are the Side Effects Worth It?" - Two Traveling Texans
Even with a comfy hotel bed, it can be hard to get sleep when you are jet lagged.

Note: In my experience, Ambien CR side effects were usually worse than Ambien, but Ambien CR helped me sleep better so I usually chose to take Ambien CR.

I have also read that some people taking Ambien have had issues with sleep eating disorder, where they eat during the night and don’t even remember it.  I have heard Ambien horror stories about gaining weight from sleep eating, where no one could figure out where the weight gain came from.  Luckily, as far as I know, I have not any sleep eating issues.

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When I would travel to Asia the time difference could be 12-14 hours! - "Ambien For Jet Lag: Are the Side Effects Worth It?" - Two Traveling Texans
When I would travel to Asia, it would be a 14 hour flight and the time difference could be 12-14 hours!

Don’t Take Ambien On a Long Flight

One other danger I should point out is that prescription sleep medicine should not be taken on the plane.  You may think this is the best way to get quality sleep on a long or even red eye flight, but the problem is you should be getting up at least every four hours to stretch.  

If you were to sleep a solid eight hours on a plane, you could risk Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).  It is a very serious condition that can be life-threatening. In simple terms, DVT is a blood clot (usually in your leg) that could travel to your lungs.  

Do I Still Take Ambien?

Finally, I should point out that I don’t think the Ambien fixed my issue with jetlag.  Yes, I would sleep well when I took the Ambien, but I didn’t want to take it every night. 

I didn’t like dealing with Ambien withdrawal.  My first night without Ambien would be rough, typically waking up around 4 am and not being able to go back to sleep.  I felt like taking Ambien for jet lag just postponed the issue.

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Sleep is important and I understand that sometimes a prescription drug is the best way to help when you have severe jet lag or another sleeping issue (and there is nothing wrong with that).  While I still travel a lot internationally, I haven’t taken any Ambien for years.   

I decided it was better to try other more natural tactics to fall asleep.  I wish I could say I have no more jet lag but I think I have just become better at coping with jet lag.  If only someone would invent a magical jet lag drug!

Have you taken any prescription or over the counter medicines to help you get over the jet lag?  What have your Ambien experiences been like? Do you have another way you have dealt with jet lag?


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pills with text

Expert Tips When Taking Ambien for Jetlag

  • Consult a doctor before taking Ambien or any prescription medicine for jet lag.
  • Be aware of the possible side effects of Ambien.
  • Do not take Ambien on long flights because you need to make sure you get up periodically to stretch your legs.
  • Be sure to follow the directions on the medicine.  Avoid alcohol and devote 8 hours to sleep.

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Last Updated on September 2, 2021

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.