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A glowing green moth swoops through the night and into an open window, circling the beds of restless sleepers while a soothing voice-over promises quick and easy relief from insomnia with Lunesta. This non-narcotic sleep aid delivers on that promise – but the eight hours of uninterrupted slumber it brings come with a cost.
Here’s a look at seven of the strange and potentially serious side effects of Lunesta.
What Makes Lunesta Different From Other Sleep Aids?
Lunesta (ezsopiclone) is a hypnotic, a kind of drug that depresses the central nervous system and slows down brain activity to encourage sleep. The actual mechanism by which Lunesta achieves this is largely unclear, although it seems to affect levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical connected to depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
Unlike other classes of sleep aids, Lunesta can be taken for relatively long periods, although insomnia typically returns once the medication is stopped. Lunesta isn’t a narcotic, but quitting it suddenly can produce withdrawal symptoms similar to those of other addictive drugs.
Side Effects Range From Mild to Severe
Though its advertisers downplay the darker side of Lunesta, this medication can cause a wide range of side effects, even when it’s taken as prescribed by a doctor.
Mild side effects can include nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting and a metallic taste in the mouth. Some users also experience stomach cramping and short-term memory problems. Some of these effects subside once the body adjusts to the medication. But other, more serious, effects can be disorienting and dangerous.
The most widely publicized side effect of Lunesta is “sleep activity” similar to sleepwalking. But Lunesta users do much more than walk. While under its influence they may drive, eat, have sex, and a variety of other things – all without conscious awareness.
Lunesta users may wake in strange places, crash cars, and gain weight from binge eating they don’t recall. They might contract STDs from risky sex they’d never have when awake, or wake up with unexplained bruises or contusions.
Irritability and Aggression
Because it acts on receptors in the brain that are related to mood, Lunesta can cause generalized irritability, anger and aggressive behavior, even at prescribed doses. These effects can be amplified when Lunesta is used with other mood regulating drugs or alcohol.
Despite advertising claims that you’ll wake up bright eyed and alert after taking Lunesta, many users report problems with coordination and motor control, even days after using the drug. This can be a surprising cause of falls in elderly people who take Lunesta, and can affect efforts to drive or use machinery, computers and other tools.
Lunesta’s connections to brain chemicals that affect mood mean that it can also intensify existing mood disorders such as depression and anxiety – or create them. Some users report having sudden thoughts of suicide, even though they might not normally feel that way. And for those who already struggle with depression and suicidal tendencies, Lunesta can create additional risk.
Even when taken as prescribed, Lunesta can cause visual or aural hallucinations, especially if you’ve been awakened before the recommended eight hours of sleep. Hallucinations can persist into the next day or two of taking the medication, as part of the “brain fog” that can follow a dose.
Short-term memory loss can be a part of the post-Lunesta fuzziness many people experience the day after taking it. But memory and cognition problems can persist even after you’re no longer using the medication.
Lunesta can be strongly addictive, both psychologically and physically. Because insomnia often returns after quitting Lunesta, users may take higher doses and try to get hold of new prescriptions in order to get the same effects. Using Lunesta in combination with other drugs, prescribed or not, can raise the risk of severe complications or even death.
Lunesta offers relief from moderate to severe insomnia – but its side effects can compromise your health and quality of life.