Every once in a while,

by francine Hardaway on March 16, 2006

Every once in a while, something makes me laugh out loud while I am alone in the house. This week, it was a Fox news story that exposed the habits of some Ambien users who found themselves sleepwalking to the refrigerator in the middle of the night. Or rather, who DIDN’T find themselves doing anything but resting in bed until they got on the scale the next morning. For the five of you on this list who don�t take sleeping pills, Ambien is a �supposedly�non-addicting sleep aid. Me, I have never taken it. All you have to do for me is turn on the TV, or start the airplane engine, or turn on the auto ignition, and I fall asleep. But apparently sleep deprivation is a big problem in the US, and millions of us sleep less than the required seven or eight hours a night.

Once the sleep police catch up with you, it�s likely you will be prescribed Ambien. And then you may find yourself inexplicably gaining weight. According to the Mayo Clinic doctor who first noticed this:

�What happens is the patients get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, prepare food — often sloppily, and often with strange, high-calorie ingredients�.They have microwave food sometimes. They eat in a very sloppy way, either in the kitchen or after taking the food back to bed. And they have no memory of it. They wake to find a mess in the kitchen or crumbs in the bed.”

That is HILARIOUS!!! Or is it? The previous week, I heard another news broadcast about a man who was stopped for drunk driving on his way to work, in broad daylight. It turned out he, too, was sleeping — still under the influence of the previous night’s Ambien. His story flushed out a plethora of other instances in which people had driven their cars to work without awakening in the morning. I�ve never heard of a drug before that worked longer and better than it was supposed to.

Ambien is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the country. No one is willing to alter his or her life to get a natural good night�s sleep (no caffeine after 10 AM, no watching TV in bed, no sleeping with the cell phone). We�d rather pop a pill. But Ambien is now about to join the ranks of Viagra (which has been found to cause strokes), VioXX (cause of heart attacks), Prozac (suicide in teenagers) and many other pharmaceuticals that are marketed as lifestyle drugs �chemicals that enhance our quality of life. Lifestyle drugs are not really necessary (you could always count sheep, walk with a cane, kiss and cuddle), but they’re sure nice. They hide some pretty ugly realities.

So we take these drugs, in search of the perfect life, the perfect erection, the perfect golf swing, until they betray us. And then we turn around and sue the pharmaceutical companies that developed them in answer to market research we sent them. We never see past the joyful present to the future consequences of the choices we make. We are a nation of neo-cortically challenged hedonists who would like to be able to see the future, but refuse to look at it until it hits us in the face.

Americans are just so incurably naive. We seem to have faith in just about anything or anybody. At the end of the 19th century, an almost forgotten novelist named Henry James exposed our follies in a series of books detailing the ignorance and blindness of Americans touring sophisticated Europe. Nothing has changed. We’re still foolish.

Yes, we expect pharmaceuticals to do only what we want them to do. And we expect our government to run the country. We are as stunned when, as a nation, we discover a Dubai Ports Deal as when we discover a side effect from a medicine.

I bet if we looked into it, we would find thousands of smaller Dubai Ports deals, in which the pressures to globalize, the need to borrow money from others to support our need for consumer goods, and a fundamental unwillingness to spend time educating ourselves about the issues have led us in a direction not unlike that of the Ambien sleepwalker � we�re in strange territory and we don�t know how we got here.

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