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Sleep self-intoxication and sleep driving as rare zolpidem-induced complex behaviour



The GABAA receptor agonist zolpidem has been used for treatment of insomnia since years, but special side effects have been reported. These side effects were called zolpidem-induced sleep-related complex behaviour. Such complex behaviour is associated with somnambulism and includes sleepwalking, sleep eating, sleep conversation and sleep driving.

Case presentation

Two cases of zolpidem-induced sleep-related complex behaviour following self-intoxication, sleep driving and amnesia are presented. In both cases, the subjects reported the voluntary intake of only one zolpidem tablet of 10 mg and amnesia for the time afterwards. Shortly after the onset of the drug’s action, both individuals drifted into a somnambulism-like state and toxicological blood analysis suggested the intake of the remaining zolpidem tablets which might be called “sleep intoxication”. Later, the subjects were arrested by police after driving under drug influence and not realizing the situation. Retrospectively, both subjects suffered from psychiatric disorders and in case 2, the subject was treated for depression with doxepin. Consequently, these co-factors may have increased the risk for the occurrence of the sleep-related complex behaviour.


Involuntary self-intoxication should be taken into account in addition to the known pattern of zolpidem-induced complex behaviour. In legal cases, the forensic expert has to assess the blood concentration of zolpidem in evaluating this strange behaviour.


Amnesia and incoherence of speech, disorganization of behaviour, inability to realize the situation and mood changes may indicate a zolpidem-induced somnambulism-like state with sleep-related complex behaviour.

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Conflict of interest

None of the contributing authors have any conflicts of interest, including specific financial interests and relationships and affiliations relevant to the subject matter or materials discussed in the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alexander Paulke.

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Paulke, A., Wunder, C. & Toennes, S.W. Sleep self-intoxication and sleep driving as rare zolpidem-induced complex behaviour. Int J Legal Med 129, 85–88 (2015).

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  • Zolpidem
  • Somnambulism
  • Self-intoxication
  • Complex behaviour