This week, disgraced comedian Roseanne Barr blamed the anti-insomnia drug Ambien for making her call a black woman an ape on Twitter. In response, Sanofi, Ambien’s manufacturer, responded, “Racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” And yet, considering the many public horror stories of people rearranging furniture, “sleep driving” and peeing on their computers while under the drug’s influence, “the Roseanne Ambien excuse” sounds feasible to some. But a closer look shows why it isn’t (and some of the weirder side effects associated with the popular sleep aid).
Ambien’s manufacturer and the FDA both know Ambien makes people act weird
Among its listed side effects, the medication guide for Ambien includes rare things like “getting out of bed while not being fully awake and do[ing] an activity that you do not know you are doing” and “abnormal thoughts and behavior … more outgoing or aggressive behavior than normal, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, worsening of depression and suicidal thoughts or actions.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also says “bizarre behaviors” on the drug can all deepen if taken with alcohol or other sedatives. When explaining her own racist tweets, Barr wrote, “It was 2 in the morning and I was Ambien tweeting — it was Memorial Day too — i went 2 far,” hinting at possible drunkenness.
A sleep expert explains why the Roseanne Ambien excuse doesn’t make much sense
Els van der Helm, the founder of a sleep consultancy company called Shleep, says the drug can make you more impulsive and disinhibited, and adds that it might even make some people experience mood changes or aggression.
“Basically part of the brain is asleep, while other parts are still active, explaining why your memory might fail you, or why you have lost normal inhibition,” van der Helm says, adding, “I’m not aware of examples where someone is tweeting certain views (in this case racist views). And I’m also not aware of research showing that such views could be expressed when in (the waking) reality they don’t have any such beliefs or thoughts.”
So while you can text message and not realize it while on Ambien, the drug is unlikely to make you express anything that you don’t already believe. Indeed, Barr’s Twitter feed was full of right-wing conspiracy theories, Islamophobia and at least one similarly racist tweet years before her most recent offense.
Ambien’s other weird side effects are hilarious yet potentially life-threatening
Also, text messages sent on Ambien are also typically full of misspellings (see below), something Barr’s tweets were not.
People have reported doing all of the following things while “asleep” on Ambien: smashing their faces into bathroom sinks, destroying public park benches, eating entire bowls of leftover spaghetti from the fridge, getting naked in front of house guests, ordering home delivery from Amazon, shooting holes in their front door, cutting up cards in one’s wallet, posting videos of themselves dancing and uploading them onto social media, mutilating one’s self with toenail clippers.
None of these things make sense in a logical waking state, but all of them could be explained by lowered inhibition or following waking dream logic.
Medical experts suggest other sleep remedies that are more natural and safer than Ambien, including keeping your bedroom cold, staying well hydrated, avoiding caffeine or sugar and turning off light-emitting devices at least an hour or more before bed.
And if you do pop an Ambien, it’s probably a good idea to put a complicated passcode on your computer or cell phone to reduce the likelihood of you ordering home delivery or texting questionable statements to the entire world.
As Barr herself later said, “Yes, I have had odd Ambien experiences on tweeting late at night — like many other ppl do. I BLAME MYSELF OK?”
Even she admits, no matter what bizarre things you might do on Ambien, if you send racist tweets, you have only yourself to blame.