Why You Make Art When You’re on Ambien

Latest for VICE.

Sometimes I can’t sleep for an entire week. I’ll feel like an alien; anything will make me cry, I’m paranoid, I hallucinate. It is insanity at its finest (and a choice torture method).

Earlier this spring, I had one of these weeks. I tried all the natural methods you can think of: yoga, meditation, Valerian root tea. On the sixth day of no sleep, when I found myself scraping for Benadryl crumbs in my purse and chugging half a hard cider in the hopes it might give me an hour of shut eye, I knew it was time to see a doctor. He prescribed me Ambien.

And it worked, if I took my prescribed 10 mg and tucked myself in bed straight away. But if I got distracted and stayed up for whatever reason, the Ambien made me energized and creative. I’d stay up writing emotional love poems. As VICE has reported, Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is a weird drug. An extreme example of its “paradoxal reaction” is the drug’s ability to wake up coma patients.

During one of my Ambien-riddled nights of Tumblr poetry, I started to search for fellow so-called “Ambien artists.” I met Ryan, a 30-year-old photographer turned iPad Ambien artist from Minnesota who takes 10 mg for chronic insomnia. “If I’m working on art, normally there’s a purpose to it. But when I’m on Ambien, the whole purpose is to pass time [until I fall asleep]. When I look at the art the next day, there’s a lot of emotion put into it. You’re seeing into that dreamlike state,” says Ryan. “What you’re seeing [on Ambien] and what you’re going to see the next morning are two completely different things, but I think that’s what makes it interesting. When I’m working on it, it’s like the greatest piece of artwork!”

To learn more about the unintended creative consequences of Ambien, I spoke with addiction psychiatrist Dr. Alkesh Patel of

 about the mechanisms responsible for my shitty love poems and how Ambien artists may have other underlying diagnoses responsible for our bad art.

Read the Q&A HERE.

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