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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