NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - All her life, a Williamson County woman has struggled to fall asleep. Still, she said being prescribed Ambien for insomnia has been a nightmare.
"It was absolutely terrible. Something no one should go through," Anita Parsley said.
Parsley said her first warning sign was when she discovered she was preparing meals while asleep.
"The first indication was when I woke up with food in my mouth. I could have choked to death in my sleep," Parsley said.
Parsley said the side effects then included sleepwalking and texting, all while fully asleep. Even though Ambien's own label shows it should be taken in the short term, Parsley provided News4 Investigates four and a half years' worth of prescriptions that she was written for the drug.
Parsley said she continued to take the drug, despite the worsening side effects because it worked so well that she was afraid to stop.
"Knowing that I was so dependent on it, I was terrified," Parsley said. However, Dr. Bhanuprakash Kolla, a sleep expert at the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mayo Clinic, said.
Kolla said the side effects of Ambien should not be ignored.
"When you hear about sleepwalking and texting and cooking, if you experience any of those, should you stop taking this medicine?" asked News4 Investigates.
"That's the time to really stop. There is a possibility these can become more dangerous, and you could put yourself or others at risk," Kolla said.
Parsley said when her doctor took her off the medication, she ended up in the hospital with suicidal thoughts.
"I was hallucinating. I was hallucinating with my eyes closed," Parsley said.
Parsley's hospitalization happened two years after the FDA gave Ambien a black box warning, citing sleepwalking and sleep-driving as side effects.
Parsley said she'd been on the drug so long at that point that she'd stopped reading the label.
Even though an FDA warning in 2013 advised doctors to lower dosing recommendations for women from 10 mg to 5 mg, citing side effects the day after taking the pill, Parsley continued to be prescribed 10 mg.
"I think the doctor should at least owe me an apology," Parsley said.
In a statement to News4 Investigates, the manufacturer of Ambien wrote in part that it "stands behind the robust clinical data that have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of Ambien since its approval in the U.S. in 1992."
On a different medication to help with sleep, Parsley said all she could do was share her story that she feared would end too soon.
"I even request a priest to pray for me because I thought I was dying," Parsley said.
Kolla said that if you take Ambien, you must take it right before bed as you may not remember what you do afterward.
Ambien's manufacturer also states not to take the medication until you can stay in bed a full night (7-8 hours) before you must be active again.