People who take sleeping pills like Ambien at night are twice as likely to have a car accident during the day, according to a recent study.
Nearly seven percent of the U.S. population takes prescription sleep medication such as Ambien, Restoril or Trazodone, and researchers found that new users of such medication had anywhere between a 25 percent and three times higher chance of being involved in an accident, CBS Minnesota reported.
"One of the reasons that's true is that sleeping pills stay in the body," said Conrad Iber, the medical director of the Fairview Sleep Program at the University of Minnesota. "This is kind of a silent problem. You're not aware of the fact that you're impaired when you're driving in the morning."
In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring makers of popular sleeping pills to lower the recommended doses of their drugs due to research which showed they can remain in the bloodstream at levels high enough to impair a user during their next-morning commute.
Study authors compared drivers impaired by sleeping medication to having a .06 to .11 blood alcohol level, and said the risks can continue for up to a year among regular users, according to NBC News.
"We generally advise people not to take sleeping medicines lifelong. There are few individuals whom that might be necessary, but they're a short-term solution, really," Iber told CBS.
Ambien, in particular, has been linked to a number of incidents where a person will take the medicine and go to sleep, only to later wake up and cook a meal or even go "sleep-driving" - actions they later claim they could not remember, The Washington Post reported.
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy made headlines in 2006 for crashing his car after sleep-driving. Kennedy took a prescribed dose of Ambien one night after returning home from a late House vote, and at around 2:45 a.m., believing he was late for the House vote, got into his car, drove to Capitol Hill and crashed into a barricade, according to CBS.
Iber told CBS that people should address their sleep problems with cognitive behavioral therapy or lifestyle changes before going on sleeping medication.
"Do go to bed at a regular time every night and get up at a regular time," Iber said. "Your sleeping room should be quiet and dark and cool. More than three caffeinated beverages [daily] or after 3 o'clock in the afternoon [is] probably not a good idea."
Reducing external stimuli a few hours before bed also allows your mind to quiet down, Iber said.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.