July 5, 2019

Plane pill poppers become 'Ambien zombies

'Running Around Naked And Urinating On First Class Passengers'

     Travel writer John Vlahides had settled down for a long flight just after downing two small bottles of wine he had taken one milligram of a tranquilizer and 10 milligrams of Ambien, a popular sleeping aid.

He then proceeded to teach a flight attendant how to tie a Bedouin turban with an airplane blanket, and then showed a sleepless young boy how to make paper airplanes. 

He did all the above without remembering a second of it.  He had no idea he had been sleepwalking until he saw the photos and selfies on his smartphone the next day.

"The weird thing was remembering it all when I saw the pictures," Vlahides said. "And you say, 'Oh my God' and you cringe."

Vlahides had become what many flight attendants unflatteringly call an "Ambien zombie." But Vlahides was lucky. He hadn't done anything too embarrassing, unlike other unlucky sleepwalkers.

A flight attendant who called herself "Betty" wrote about "The Streak" in a Yahoo article called "Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant: Attack of the Ambien Zombies."

The streaker was a sleepwalking economy passenger who had taken off all his clothes and decided to run up the aisle to first class. According to the story, he was stopped by flight attendants and told to don his clothes; he only realized his humiliating exploit when he later woke with his underwear in his hand.

Flight attendants told similar stories to Mayo Clinic sleep specialist Dr. Lois Krahn during her research on inflight substance use and jet lag. Krahn tells her patients one disconcerting tale as a warning about the potential dangers of sleeping aids, especially if combined with alcohol.

"This trans-Pacific and business class passenger mixed alcohol and Ambien and then woke needing to take a piss," Krahn said. "He stood up and becan pissing on the passenger sitting next to him.

"Can you imagine how hard it was to calm down the business class cabin for the rest of the night?," Krahn added with a chuckle.

Ambien, or zolpidem tartrate, belongs to a class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics. Prescribed to treat insomnia for adults over the age of 18, it works by slowing brain activity.

"One of the normal side effects of Ambien is that it basically turns your brain into Teflon. You don't lay down any new memories," said Dr. Julie Holland, a psychopharmacologist who practices in Manhattan.

"And the other thing that happens is that you get sort of disinhibited, the way that you would if you were drunk or had taken Xanax or Ativan or Valium or something like that," Holland said. "So you get very relaxed and disinhibited, and you don't remember what you're doing."

"You're not really sleeping deeply because the lights are on, there are a lot of people around and of course interruptions by flight staff," Holland said. "Or you may take the sleeping pill and not fall asleep, and then you are going to be in this altered state."

Activities that can happen in an altered state include "sleep-walking or doing other activities when you are asleep like eating, talking, having sex, or driving a car," according to the Ambien safety warnings, as well as "not thinking clearly" and "acting strangely, confused, or upset."

Those behaviors make sense to Holland. "When people are disinhibited, anything can happen because you're talking about basic primal instincts that are coming out. What are our basic instincts? To have sex and eat and sometimes to be aggressive."

The side effects become worse by combining them with tranquilizers and alcohol, said Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

"The worst thing you can do is drink alcohol on a plane," Dasgupta said. "You're already dehydrated, you have a lot of travel fatigue, and on top of that you're adding sleeping aids to it."

Tips for sleeping on a plane

1. Avoid pharmaceutically induced sleep

2. Try melatonin instead

3. Limit alcohol

4. Pack a sleep kit

5. Plan ahead

Try these tips. Don't become another airplane Ambien zombie. Unless you enjoy embarrassing yourself, of course.



Ran DeBord - All Access Sporting News

Some content sourced from:  AASNNews; CNNwire

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