Ambien vs Lunesta for treating insomnia

Insomnia is a problem we can all relate to – no one has not had it at one point during their life.  Over a year, roughly 1/3 of adults will have some sort of insomnia, and about 2-6% of adults will choose to use a sleep medication.

The ideal treatment for insomnia is without medication.  This article discusses how to fight insomnia naturally.

Of the medications, however, Ambien and Lunesta are two very popular sleeping aids – how do they compare?


Ambien is typically taken in 5-10mg/day, takes half an hour to take effect, and half of it is gone in about 2-3 hours.  It hits you quick, makes you fall asleep, then goes away.

This “rougher” mode of action may make it more potent.  It may also reduce the chance of daytime drowsiness.  It may also, however, not help with people who have trouble with waking up in the middle of the night.

That said, there is a long release form that may reduce these issues.


Lunesta is typically given in 1-3mg/day, kicks in at about one hour, and half of it is gone in 4-6 hours.  It’s more subtle and softer, but may have more issue with daytime drowsiness.  That said, one major study showed that use of Lunesta reduced daytime drowsiness as compared to placebo, probably due to better quality sleep.

Importantly, it is the only FDA approved medication for treating insomnia that can be given for more than 35 days.  Studies have shown that Lunesta can work for 6 months without inducing tolerance to its effects and as well as causing very little dependency.

This medication, like Ambien, helps you fall asleep faster and improves the quality of your sleep.

Both Ambien, Lunesta

Both medications have similar chemical effects, the most common being drowsiness, dizziness and headache.  Ambien and Lunesta both somehow mimic the action of benzodiazepines albeit in a different way.

There have been reports from both medications of possible hallucinations, night time sleep-activity (even driving a car while asleep!).  They can both worsen depression and both are metabolized by the same enzymes, so have similar drug interactions and counterindications.

User satisfaction

Most people who use this type of medication find it helpful and useful.  In one study, 74-84% reported that they were happy with their decision to use the medication.
That said, one can’t forget the risks inherent to all sleep medications.  Even while some studies have shown limited tolerance and dependency, many users report those are issues.  Rebound insomnia, where insomnia is worsened once the medication is used, is not uncommon.

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