SEAL's Osama bin Laden book sheds light on Ambien use in military
September 9th, 2012
11:22 PM ET

SEAL's Osama bin Laden book sheds light on Ambien use in military

By Larry Shaughnessy

The new book "No Easy Day" by former U.S. Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette has attracted a great deal of attention for his first hand account of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Bissonnette chronicles the drama of the daring operation and the al Qaeda leader's final moments at his compound in Pakistan. But it also details quieter revelations, including one in which Bissonnette talks about the use by SEALS of the powerful sleep drug Ambien.

Available by prescription, Ambien is known to cause some potentially troubling side effects including sleep walking, hallucinations and amnesia, according to Dr. Thomas LoRusso, the medical director of the Northern Virginia Sleep Diagnostic Center.

According to Bissonnette's account, between the time the SEALs left the United States for the bin Laden raid in Pakistan and their return flight less than a week later, he took at least six Ambien pills, always two at a time.

"I popped two Ambien. No one was getting any rest without sleeping pills," Bissonnette wrote in the book, using the pseudonym Mark Owen.

On the day he flew to Pakistan for the high-stakes mission, Bissonnette wrote that he woke up and walked to the mess hall, having to go through a gate with a combination lock.

"My head was still cloudy from the Ambien. Pressing the numbers, I tried the doorknob. No luck," he wrote.

"It took me three times to get out, but I was finally on my way."

Bissonnette also writes about how other SEALs took Ambien to help them sleep.

Before the bin Laden operation, he saw some fellow SEALs eating.

"'How did you sleep?" he asked.

"Like sh*t," said one.

"'You take any Ambien?" Bissonnette asked.

"Two," the other SEAL said.

There are explanations for why Navy SEALs on deployment might need a powerful sleep aid.

"Since we operated at night, the majority of the population on the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) compound slept all day," Bissonnette wrote.

Also SEAL teams are often called to fly around the world on a moment's notice and be ready to fight as soon as the plane rolls to a stop.

The military cargo planes that transport them are not the most comfortable. Passengers often have to sleep on unpadded seats or stretched out on a metal floor.

Ambien generally comes in 10 milligram pills but there's also a 5 milligram dose. Bissonnette does not say what dose he took.

Medical literature advises that no more than 10 mg should be taken daily and the U.S. military agrees.

"The recommended dose for adults is 10 mg once daily immediately before bedtime. The total Ambien dose should not exceed 10 mg per day," according to Dr. Jack Smith, the Defense Department's director of clinical program policy integration.

But Smith said there are times when more may be necessary.

"There could be occasions when a provider may feel a larger or more frequent dose may be indicated. This should occur only in rare situations and proper discussion and observation of side effects," Smith said.

He added that no one in the military should take Ambien without a prescription.

LoRusso told CNN that some patients need two tablets. But he also was clear that the daily dosage should not exceed 10 mg a day when use first starts.

Ambien has been in the news.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and his cousin Kerry Kennedy both ran into trouble with the law after taking it and driving.

This past week, former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw was briefly hospitalized after complaining of lightheadedness at the Democratic National Convention. Brokaw later posted on Twitter that he had accidently taken half a dose of Ambien.

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  22. cc Diane

    My husband was a "flier" in the Air Force; each deployment, Ambien was prescribed to every person on his team. Their flight scheduled varied, and when they were on "crew rest" (mandatory rest time) they had to *sleep*. National security, people. Geesh.

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  23. Random Army Officer

    Actually, a large majority of us in the military don't care who the President is. Regardless of which party wins or which guy gives us more props, we have to do our job whether we agree with it or not.We all have personal feelings, but thats all they are, personal feelings. Don't give these guys hell for taking a sleeping pill to catch some much needed rest, the adrenaline pumping through their bodies from the high threat environment is keeping them awake.

    October 4, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
    • michele

      I love Ambien. I am not a good sleeper. When I have had high stressed jobs, only a nice boring drive home from work would make me nod off, usually at a stoplight, but that's not a whole lot safer than sleeping while moving. With Ambien, you have to use it properly. It's in your blood for 7 or 8 hours, max. If you're too excited, or if there's something terrible bothering you, it won't put you to sleep. But you will still be unable to safely cross streets, drive, or cook until the 8 hours is up.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  24. belinda

    I have often wondered why Military support for President Obama is so low. After Republicans denied assistance for Veterans returning from the war , I figured they would be flying to the Democratic side, they did not. I think it's the Vietnam Syndrome . Remember the movie ? Where all of the officers are allowed to leave by helicopter, abandoning their men to the VietCong ? It's the same principle , many soldiers support Obama , It's probably the officers who's Ideology is influencing others. These are the guys who send Soldiers out there to Die , for their own Political reasons, while they fly away safely.

    September 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • Michael Schweitzer

      That's typical democratic BS. Democrats always whine that some privileged class is hurting the "lower" classes. Total nonsense. Soldiers don't care for Obama because his socialist policies don't jibe with the soldier's beliefs.

      September 27, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
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      Actually, it's because the Democrats constantly STAB the soldiers in the back after they're done fighting. John Kerry anyone? Disgusting how he stabbed our troops in the back WHILE he wore the uniform. He and Jane Fonda should have gotten married, they'd make a good pair.

      September 28, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
  25. mark

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  26. Robert E. Lee- Alexandria, VA





    September 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • neil480

      Radical muslims may use body doubles but that won't defeat a DNA test which was what was done on the corpse.

      Of course, the US government kept the pictures of the dead Bin Laden to themselves, they had their reasons, but you would think that if Bin Laden wasn't dead then he would've held his hand up and said 'Hey, I'm not dead'.

      Also, if I recall correctly, Al Qaeda have also made a statement confirming his death.

      So the evidence points to Bin Laden being dead, and unless he suddenly appears and proves he is alive then we may as well assume he is actually dead.

      It seems that according to a conspiracy theorist, they do not need evidence to prove their theory is correct – I say they do.

      October 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
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  28. jon

    in a war zone i find that muddy black coffee straight with a heavy dose of sugar, 5-10 times daily works miracles, and its natural, we would cook the stuff up every few hrs and all enjoy and be energized, 4-5 nites with no sleep was the norm and no one was ever groggy or sleepy, we were alert.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Reply
    • bob

      sorry, but after 3 wars, i'm not buying your bs about not sleeping for 4-5 nites. seriously, you must take everyone to be stupid with your bs story!!

      September 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply

    AMBIEN KILLS. Its poision it should be banned!

    September 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Reply
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    Legal Militarized Drug Addicts with Machine guns, hand grenades and license to kill.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Reply
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    Drug Addicts with guns and grenades and license to kill

    September 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
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      I agree

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      You won't find many in the military that aren't high or one thing or another.

      September 21, 2012 at 12:16 am | Reply
  32. bgates

    You would think that with all the specialized military equipment we have developed for our service men–we could come up with a comfortable way to sleep in a C130 flying a spec ops teams half way around the world...

    September 10, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  33. Jefferson Brothers

    They should give them Adderall or Vyvanse instead of powerful sleeping aids. Once they been up for 48 hours off a stimulant they will sleep like babies fresh off the teet. I'd rather our boys be wound tight than groggy from a sleep aid. Substance abuse, of course, should be the main concern for our soldiers' doctors, but they are in harms way to begin with, and dosing them with a long acting stimulant increases their vigilance and focus, yet sadly might also increase their trigger finger response in the wrong times, potentially killing innocent people. But they are putting their lives on the line for us, for our country, for our future, and I think the soldier and his doctor should discuss both these directions in care to find the best fit. God bless the USA, God bless our troops, and God bless our future.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  34. Richard Larson

    The unhappy facts are that use of uppers and downers has been common knowledge in the Spec Ops military since the 50's. The facts are that when the mission calls for long hours of vigilence uppers have been widely used. The same goes for guys returning to compounds after missions too amped up to sleep when sleep is absolutely necessary to maintain the mission. In addition to that, there is widespread use of pain medication and anti-inflammatory meds. Virtually all if this is under the control of medical personnel. I would seriously doubt that there is much self medication. The chances to get caught are too severe. I sincerely hope that the military look at this with the mission in mind and not be reactive to uninformed objections that have no basis in the realities of military fact. Any other response would indeed be a self destructive travesty.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Reply
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