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When does Ambien peak?

Ambien peaks about 1.5 – 2 hours after taken. But when taken with a meal, the extended release version (Ambien CR), peaks up to 4 hours later. More on how Ambien works in the body, plus information on its addiction potential and status as Ambien narcotic here.

What’s in Ambien?

The main psychoactive ingredient in Ambien is zolpidem tartrate. Zolpidem tartrate is used to treat insomnia characterized by difficulties with sleep initiation. Zolpidem tartrate is a hypnotic agent and works by interacting with a GABA-BZ receptor complex in the body. Zolpidem shares some of the pharmacological properties of the benzodiazepines, but is more effective inducing and preserving deep sleep than benzos.

C max = Peak levels of drugs

The maximum (peak) plasma drug concentration is the highest level of drug that occurs in the plasma portion of blood after administration of the drug. Another way to say this is that peak plasma concentrations of any drug occurs when the elimination rate equals the rate of absorption. The peak plasma levels of any drug can also vary, depending on the drug and other factors including drug accumulation in tissues, active metabolites, and receptor interactions in the central nervous system. But why do we even want to know when a drug level peaks? Are peak plasma concentrations of drugs related to a drug’s effects?

It is helpful to know when drug levels peak in the blood because short term drug side effects are most likely to occur at or near the Cmax. However, it is important to note that the therapeutic effects of sustained duration drugs usually occur a concentrations slightly above the Cmin, or the minimum concentration that a drug achieves after dosing.

Ambien peak levels

Peak concentrations (Cmax) of zolpidem tartrate tablets taken as 5 and 10 mg doses of Ambien occur, on average, around 1.6 hours after administration for both doses.

Ambien CR peak levels

Peak concentrations (Cmax) of Ambien CR taken as a single 12.5 mg dose occur around 1.5 hours after administration. However, when taken 30 minutes after a meal, the peak plasma levels of Ambien CR (zolpidem tartrate) increase to up to 4 hours. This seems to suggest that you should avoid taking Ambien CR with or immediately after a meal if you prefer faster sleep onset.

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Dangers of long term Ambien use

Ambien has been designed as a short term sleep aid.  Are sleep aids addictive?  Potentially.  When taken for more than four (4) weeks, Ambien can actually provoke insomnia and/or lead to physical dependence. This is why Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance by federal regulation. This means that although it has a known medical use, Ambien can be abused for non medical reasons, and prolonged use of Ambien can lead to addiction.

How can I tell if I’m addicted to Ambien?

Physical dependence on hypnotic drugs like Ambien is different than addiction. Addiction occurs when you compulsively seek out Ambien and use it, despite negative consequences. In other words, if you think that you have a problem with Ambien and use it as a psychological or emotional coping mechanism, you may need help. Addiction is a primary, chronic, and neurobiological disease. Treatment to address the psychosocial and environmental factors that influencing addiction is possible.

If you think that you have a problem with Ambien, please let us know. We’ll be happy to help you locate local resources or services that can help you stop taking Ambien. Please know that you should always stop taking Ambien under the supervision of a doctor. Abrupt cessation of sedatives or hypnotics like Ambien can result in withdrawal symptoms or withdrawal syndrome. We invite your questions about Ambien use, misuse or addiction below. And we answer all legitimate Ambien questions with a personal response.

Reference sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) Bioavailability and Bioequivalence Studies for Orally Administered Drug Products — General Considerations
Clinical Pharmacokinetics Preferred Symbols
Wiki Answers for pharmacokinetics
Wiki on Biological half-life
Daily Med FDA approved drug label for Ambien
Daily Med FDA approved drug label for Ambien CR


Photo credit: Ambien FDA approved drug label

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3 Responses to “When does Ambien peak?
2:40 am August 21st, 2013

I have been taking 20 mg for about five nights a week for the last several weeks, as I have found the 5 and 10 mg dosages to have lost efficacy. If I quit for a week, then start again at the 5 mg dose, should I expect that dose to return to its previous effectiveness after the weeklong ‘break’? Thanks for your help

1:16 pm August 21st, 2013

Hello Paul. It seems like you’re describing the phenomenon of tolerance. While lowering dosage under medical supervision may bring back an increase in medication effectiveness, you risk some pretty serious side effects if you do so cold turkey or without following some guidelines. Check in with you prescribing doctor and plan dosing/tapering calendar over the period of at least a few weeks fto minimize risk of complications.

9:30 am June 3rd, 2017

I have been taking ambian for about 17 years steady. Will my attempt at stopping this drug be much harder than usual? I am trying to stop my morphine dependency right now, it’ almost killing me, should I wait on the ambian until I settle the morphine issue? I just quit using the va for medical care as I find their care substandard. I have a new dr. In my hometown, but I am new with her and haven’t developed a personal relationship with her yet. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I have always taken 10 or 12.5 mg per night. I have pretty bad a-arithmia which never beats right. Just came down with Bell’s palsy (sp?)2 days ago, 60 years old, take many diff prescribed Meds, don’t want to kill myself with adjustments. David

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