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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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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
That does not sound worth it! I just like some wine and reading. A boring book always puts me to sleep 🙂
Teju – Yes wine and reading is a great strategy to get to sleep. I need to work on ways to stay asleep!
I have to say I have never really struggled with jet lag. I was shift-worker for 20 years and my body just learned to sleep when it could.
However, I do understand the desire to feel fresh when you get off an overnight plane trip – no one copes well with red eye flights. But you should never take a sleeping tablet that knocks you out cold – just in case there is an emergency and you have to get off the plane. You put your own life and other people’s lives at risk as they try to get you off the plane.
Sally – Agree thats another good reason not to take prescription sleep medicine on a flight.
I must confess that I only seem to have jet lag when returning home 😉 and I never had taken any medicine for it. Try to sleep and eat nice nutritious food, drink a lot of water and carry on.
Want to thank you too for hosting the link up party. It’s my first participation and I’m very happy to know some new fellow bloggers.
Maria – You are lucky you only have jetlag when you return home. Glad you found some techniques that have helped you. So happy to have you as part of #TheWeeklyPostcard!
Hi Anisa, Great to hear about your own personal experience taking Ambien. I have never taken it but have a lot of issues sleeping on planes and sometimes with jet lag (although often hard to tell if from not sleeping or actually time differences!) and have tried more homeopathic remedies in the past. Something I might consider in the future. Also I really like that you included a disclosure, I think that is so important and something many bloggers don’t do when dispensing opinions about medical stuff! ~ Jessica
Jessica – I am working on a post about some tips for sleeping better on a plane so hopefully you will find that helpful. Glad you appreciated the disclosure, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable writing the post without it!
I certainly have taken Benadryl to help me drift off when I know I have a big day ahead of me. I am a pretty restless sleeper so it helps me get the most of my shut-eye. Thanks for hosting the Weekly Postcard!
Staci – Yes Benadryl is not as strong as the prescription sleep medicines. Glad it works for you and happy you could join #TheWeeklyPostcard
I asked my doctor for Ambien when I traveled to Asia as I had heard it is good for jetlag, and she wouldn’t prescribe it for me! She recommended the Xanax I was already taking for flight anxiety, which worked pretty well.
Leigh – That is really interesting. I assume it was because of the side effects? I did take Xanax on one other occasion (not related to travel) and did find it made me really tired, so yeah maybe that is a good substitute.
I’m a pharmacist and I have seen these things with Ambien as well as mild addiction from time to time. For short term necessary relief, it’s okay, but over the long haul these things you have mentioned and others can make it troublesome. I’ve never personally had to travel with much jet lag (but I’m hoping that is gonna change in the next few years as we expand our travel), so I can’t speak if it personally works, but for me, I’d rather try benadryl (diphendhydramine) or even dramamine to see if that works first. My mother in law had problems with sleep walking when on Ambien.
Amanda – Yes from my experience I can see why people can get addicted to ambien because you feel so good after such a deep sleep. I had tried benadryl but since my problem was staying asleep and not just falling asleep it didn’t really help. I do agree ambien is not a good long term solution.
I normally try to stick it out and let my body clock sort itself out over a few days, but I must admit – it gets harder as I get older! This is a very interesting article – I’ve never heard of Ambien before. I like the fact that it works quickly, but not sure I want to risk the side effects though! #theweeklypostcard
Upeksha – Interesting you say it gets harder as you get older, I find the more I experience it the easier it gets. I agree that it is debatable whether or not the side effects are worth it.
I do really struggle with jet lag but I think I am getting a bit better, I normally try and sleep as much as I can on the flight regardless of the time and then push through to try and overcome waking up in the middle of the night! That’s the worst. I guess it is good to know there are other options, although leaving your laptop behind isn’t great! Glad you got it back!
Thanks Becky, jet lag is so difficult. Glad you have managed to deal with it.
I have never tried Ambien or any pill/solution for jetlag. Did get some samples during travel conferences and have always wondered if anything works well for people.
Menorca – Yes ambien definitely helps, you just have to decide if you can deal with the side effects.
I have a terrible time sleeping on planes but jet leg in itself doesn’t affect me that badly. However, when flying with babies, it was so difficult to get them to adjust to the time change. We would often give them gravol to help them sleep on the plane.
Dawn – You are lucky that jetlag doesn’t affect you too badly. I can’t even imagine getting babies to adjust to a big time difference.
Every advice on how to fight jetlag is always good to take 🙂 thank you for the tip and will definitely keep it in mind!
Thanks Audrey, Glad you found it useful.
I can never sleep on planes – I wish I could as I think it’s the source of a lot of my jetlag, the fact I miss a night’s sleep on a longhaul flight. I’m looking forward to your post on natural ways to fall asleep! #weeklypostcard
Jo – Yes I used to never sleep on planes and now that I have gotten better at it, it has definitely helped with the jetlag.
I have heard about people using Ambien to sleep on the plane. Some say that they take half the pill to sleep less. Anyway, I think it is not a good way to deal with the situation. I do not like the part about forgetting stuff. I do not think that would work for me as an independent traveler.
Ruth – Yes, I think you have to be even more careful if you are traveling by yourself. It is definitely not something for everyone.
Interesting that Ambien affected you so strangely! I used to take it even for normal sleep because there was a time I was quite a night owl and couldnt sleep. But since moving to Germany, I no longer have that problem. Not that I’m saying Germany is the solution haha #TheWeeklyPostcard
Lolo – Glad to hear that Ambien helped you and you no longer need it! It really is hard when you have sleep issues.
I have never heard of Ambien. I wonder if it is sold in Australia under a different name. Like you I get hit very hard by jet lag. It was especially bad when my boys were young and I would be awake on long haul flights keeping them amused. Nowadays I just try to allow a couple of days at our first destination to readjust. Living in Australia doesn’t help at all – except New Zealand almost everywhere is a long haul flight away.
Lyn – Interesting, yes I imagine it is sold under a different name. I have heard of people have side effects with other prescription sleep medicines too. Yeah and I can see how living in Australia could make things worse. I am glad you have figured out a way to manage.
Oh….this is also my story, I´m having troubles with sleeping on planes or anywhere else while seating! I literally need a bed! Was really interesting to read about your experiences with Ambien CR, thanks for sharing! I´ve heard some people are taking Melatonin, but haven´t tried anything yet! And the taxi/computer situation could have happened to me without drugs though lol 😀
Anna – Yes I know some people did recommend Melatonin too me, but I never tried it. I didn’t think it would be strong enough to help, but maybe I should give it a chance.
I’ve never taken a flight longer than 4 hours before so I didn’t experience a jet leg before) However my boyfriend constantly flies between Europe and the US and jet leg is always hard on him. I’ve been telling him that he maybe should try some pills to help beat jet leg. But this medicine seems absolutely not worth it.
Uliana – Yeah depending on how bad the jet lag is it may not be worth it. I hope you will find my tips about sleeping on the plane helpful, hope to share those soon.
I’ve never flown internationally so the biggest time difference from home was 2 hours. I’m very curious to see how my body will react when I’ll visit USA next year.
Vlad – Yes will be interesting, it definitely affects some people worse than others!