Ambien May Prompt Sleep-Eating

Some people don't just walk in their sleep, they eat as well.

As sleep disorders go, it's one of the more bizarre, observes CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone.

He says Dr. Mark Mahowald and other sleep researchers have discovered that nocturnal eating may be a side effect of the popular sleep medication, Ambien.

That comes on the heels of reports that some Ambien users may drive while sleeping.

Mahowald, who's medical director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis, tells Blackstone, "We've had people eat very inappropriate things that they would never eat while awake. Some example would be buttered cigarettes, salt sandwiches, raw bacon."

And sleep-binging could leave its mark – on waistlines.

"I put on over 100 pounds since I've been on Ambien," says Brenda Pobre, who couldn't figure out why she was gaining so much weight.

"I would wake up in the morning and there would be candy wrappers all around the bed," she says. "There would be crumbs in the bed. There would be all kinds of evidence that someone had been eating in the bed. But I had absolutely no recollection of it."

Her sons stayed up to watch her, afraid she would injure herself.

"We have had people, infrequently, cut themselves as they're trying to chop up food to eat in the middle of the night," notes Mahowold.

Pobre adds, "There would be a big mess in the kitchen. There would be wrappers on the floor, popsicle sticks on the floor. I would accuse my sons of making the mess and they would say they didn't, and they would say they had seen me doing it and, of course, I thought they were lying."

Mahowald points out that, "Sleep and wakefulness can occur simultaneously. Everybody thinks the brain is either all awake or all asleep, and that's not true. The brain can be literally half awake and half asleep."

Ambien's maker issued a statement saying the side effect is known but rare, and that "when taken as prescribed, Ambien is a safe and effective treatment for insomnia." The side effect is disclosed in the product's labeling material.

And Pobre still takes it, saying, "I have chronic insomnia. And I've tried everything, behavior modification, everything. And nothing works except Ambien."

But now, says Blackstone, she also takes another medication that helps defeat her urge to eat in her sleep.