The sleep aid that could turn you into a zombie in mid-air

Imagine this…

You’re gearing up for a long flight. Maybe you’re heading to Italy for your second honeymoon. Or London for your cousin’s wedding.

Either way, you’re cramped in economy class for a good eight hours with kids kicking the back of your seat, people sneezing, babies crying and drink carts hitting you in the elbow as they wobble past.

Basically, the less time you’re conscious, the better. So, you have a glass of wine (or two) and pop an Ambien. You wake up hours later excited that you slept through most of your flight. Woohoo!

But long after you’ve landed, you notice strange pictures on your phone. They’re from your flight. There’s a picture of you with your arm around the passenger next to you. A picture of you holding a paper airplane with a kid from your flight. Pictures you have no recollection of taking.

What the heck happened?

You fell victim to an ultra-embarrassing air travel pitfall… you became an Ambien zombie.

Peak Golden Oil

Helps Your Body Maintain Optimum Immune Balance!


What is an Ambien zombie?

Unless you’re a flight attendant, you’ve probably never heard the term “Ambien zombie” before. So, let me explain…

When you take Ambien or other sleep aids (AKA sedative-hypnotics), they do two things…

First, they prevent your brain from forming new memories. This is called Teflon brain because your brain becomes like Teflon… new memories just won’t stick.

They also release your inhibitions. So, you’re much more likely to do or say things you would NEVER do or say in your usual state of mind. Kind of like when you’re drunk.

Usually, you take Ambien right before bed. It slows down your brain activity, making it easier for you to fall asleep. But a crowded plane is a very different environment than your quiet bedroom. It’s hard to fall into a deep sleep on a plane. So, rather than fall asleep, you may just enter a drugged-up state that you won’t remember.

As you can imagine, this leads to some seriously bizarre and embarrassing behavior. The story I told above is really similar to what actually happened to a travel writer named John Vlahides on a flight from London to San Francisco. And that’s far from the worst Ambien zombie story….

One guy took off all his clothes and streaked through first class. Another felt the urge to pee and instead of going to the bathroom, did it on another passenger. When they woke up later in their flight, they didn’t remember a thing.

This bizarre behavior inspired flight attendants to lovingly nickname people in this uninhibited, unconscious state “Ambien zombies.”

Avoid becoming an Ambien zombie

The easiest way to avoid becoming an Ambien zombie is to not take Ambien. Turn to something less risky to ease flight anxiety and knock yourself out… like valerian root, L-theanine or melatonin.

Also, do practical things to increase your odds of achieving relaxation on your flight, like bringing comfy clothes, choosing a strategically-placed seat, and putting a pair of noise-canceling headphones and a sleep mask in your carry-on

That being said, if you need Ambien or other sleep aids to make it through a long flight, at the very least, follow this piece of advice…

Don’t mix them with alcohol. That’s where the Ambien zombies I mentioned above went wrong. They took an Ambien and had a few cocktails. Though when my colleague Margaret Cantwell shared her at-home Ambien zombie story, no alcohol was involved.

Now, I can’t guarantee that taking an Ambien without alcohol will keep you sleeping and fully clothed throughout your flight. But you’ve got much better odds than the dude next to you who washed his Ambien down with a glass of merlot.


  1. Sleeping pills and planes: Embarrassing tales from 35,000 feet — CNN
  2. Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant: Attack of the Ambien Zombies (Part One) — Yahoo
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and