Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Medicated and asleep at the wheel

Shocked pair report doing things they have no recollection of after taking sleeping tablets as prescribed.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A Hamilton woman's 300km "sleep drive" across three regions has prompted warnings around sleeping medication by two other women who have gone through similarly terrifying episodes.

It remains unclear how the woman came to drive from Hamilton to Mt Maunganui via Auckland in her sleep last week, but two women who spoke to the Herald yesterday said they went through similar experiences after taking what they later found were unsafe amounts of sleeping medication.

Both say they only took their doses in the amounts prescribed.

Chris McIntosh, a former Christchurch real estate agent, said her ordeal began after her intake of the medication Zopiclone was doubled to help her sleep. In the months that followed, she was left shocked and frightened by things she had done with no recollection of doing them.

In the worst case, she woke up in a police cell in a night gown and was later told she had been picked up while driving.

"I just remember screaming."

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In other instances, she woke in her bed surrounded by McDonald's wrappers, despite her intolerance to gluten, sent text messages, and left her kitchen in a mess after cooking in her sleep.

Terrified, she surrendered her driver's licence to police and asked her mother to live with her.

"It's the most devastating experience I've ever been through," she said. "The most difficult thing was that I never told anyone, because I was so embarrassed and I didn't know what I was doing."

Her niece, a nurse, helped Ms McIntosh discover the root of the problem. The episodes stopped soon after she changed to another medication to help wean her off the prescription.

A Hawkes Bay woman, who asked not to be named, began taking sleeping pills after finding anti-depressants were interfering with her sleep.

"Initially it worked well and I slept much better, but I continued it for a longer term than is recommended by Medsafe today," she said. "After I had been on it for some months, I began to notice that I wasn't remembering things."

The most serious incident happened when she drove from Hastings to Napier for business, returned and filed a report, and was later told by her boss she had done the same thing two weeks before.

"I had absolutely no recall of the first instance, which was utterly terrifying."

Dr Dee Mangin, a Christchurch GP and chief medical officer for RxiSK.org, a global website for patient researching and reporting of adverse drug effects, said amnesia, sleepwalking and sleep driving had been reported before by patients who were taking sleeping tablets, as well as other medication.

Women appeared more susceptible to such side effects and problems could be magnified when combined with alcohol and other commonly used drugs, she said.

It remained unclear yesterday whether Hamilton police would be laying any charges against the woman involved in last week's incident.

Dr Michael Tatley, director of the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring, said patients needed to use common sense when taking medication.

"Clearly, if someone is taking more than the recommended dose, the chances of these sorts of things happening and psychoactive events are higher."

Eyes wide shut

* A 300km "sleep drive'' across the country has prompted warnings around sleeping medication.

* Two other women have gone through similarly terrifying episodes.

* One woman woke up in a police cell wearing a night gown and was later told she had been picked up while driving - something she had no recollection of.

* Amnesia, sleepwalking and sleep driving had been reported before by patients who were taking sleeping tablets, as well as other medication.

- NZ Herald

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