Ambien is a hypnotic that treats insomnia by helping people fall asleep and stay asleep. It is available in two forms: Ambien and Ambien CR or controlled release. Both of the formulations work by binding to a subclass of receptors in the brain called benzodiazepine-GABA receptors. This binding up-regulates inhibitory pathway that regulates signaling in the brain thereby imparting peace and relaxation needed to fall asleep.
The two formulations vary in the way they cause the effect and both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages.
What is the need for Ambien CR?
Ambien is an immediate release compressed tablet that is effective in initiating sleep but not in maintaining sleep. This gave rise to the need for a longer acting version: Ambien CR.
Unlike the former, which is single layered that acts in one go and initiates sleep, Ambien controlled release (or CR) is a formulation made to release the active ingredient Zolpidem in a controlled manner. It has two layers that dissolve and produce the effect at different times, one after the other.
The first layer is immediately released to help the person fall asleep while the second layer is released after some time to keep the person asleep.
Advantages of Ambien CR over Ambien
This medication acts for longer duration’s (for more than 3 hours from oral administration) by releasing steady concentrations in the blood thereby leading to longer duration of action than its counter-part.
Also, since this form sustains significant levels in the body over time, it is usually prescribed in doses lower than its latter counter-part depending upon the individual’s requirements.
Moreover, it is a drug that has known to be effective both for short-term as well as long-term use, unlike Ambien that is prescribed only for short-term use.
Advantages of Ambien over Ambien CR
The very first thing that gives the former a lead in the market is its availability in many generic versions (zolpidem tartrate) which reduces the cost to fractions, unlike Ambien CR that has no generic form yet.
Adding to this is the studies that suggest that the latter drug may produce certain unique side effects that have not been reported in case of former variant or any of its generic versions.
Which is better?
What makes one better than other is simply a personalized thing, that takes into consideration the physiological condition of the person taking it, the dosage requirement and the indications (long term or short term), that is to be addressed by the medication.
Also, the two forms share some side effects such as a headache, amnesia, dizziness, drowsiness or impaired balance and the risk of causing physical or physiological dependency and addiction is also associated with both making them fall under Schedule IV controlled substance category.
For some, Ambien would do good while for others the controlled release version might sound better and hence claiming one better from another is immaterial.
To sum up
All that can be concluded is that either it is Ambien or CR version, do not decide by yourself, let your healthcare provider understand your body’s sleep need and prescribe it for you so that you can experience the best effect which is peaceful nights with quality sleep with least side effects.