Sleep Drug Fantasy

For those of you who do not have a subscription to the NY Times, there was recently an interesting article about sleep medications. I will provide a brief excerpt and encourage those who are interested in the full article to check out the NY Times website – subscription is free as of this writing.

Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular

New York Times
By STEPHANIE SAUL

Your dreams miss you. Or so says a television commercial for Rozerem, the sleeping pill…Not the stuff most dreams are made of. But if the unusual pitch makes you want to try Rozerem, consider that it costs about $3.50 a pill; gets you to sleep 7 to 16 minutes faster than a placebo, or fake pill; and increases total sleep time 11 to 19 minutes, according to an analysis last year. If those numbers send you out to buy another brand, consider this, as well: Sleeping pills in general do not greatly improve sleep for the average person.American consumers spend $4.5 billion a year for sleep medications. Their popularity may lie in a mystery that confounds researchers. Many people who take them think they work far better than laboratory measurements show they do.An analysis of sleeping pill studies found that when people were monitored in the lab, newer drugs like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata worked better than fake pills. But the results were not overwhelming, said the analysis, which was published this year and financed by the National Institutes of Health.The analysis said that viewed as a group, the pills reduced the average time to go to sleep 12.8 minutes compared with fake pills, and increased total sleep time 11.4 minutes. The drug makers point to individual studies with better results…”People seem to be getting a lot of relief from sleeping pills, but does getting 25 minutes of sleep really give you all that relief?” asked Dr. Wallace B. Mendelson, the former director of a sleep disorders unit at the University of Chicago. “A bigger aspect of this is that they change a person’s perception of their state of consciousness.” Dr. Mendelson is semiretired and is a consultant for pharmaceutical companies…Most sleeping pills work on the same brain receptors as drugs to treat anxiety. By reducing anxiety, the pills may make people worry less about not going to sleep. So they feel better.Another theory about the discrepancy between measured sleep and perceived sleep involves a condition called anterograde amnesia. While under the influence of most sleep medications, people have trouble forming memories. When they wake up, they may simply forget they had trouble sleeping…Even some people who sleepwalked while taking Ambien, which was implicated in cases of odd, sometimes dangerous behavior while sleeping, believed they were having a good night’s sleep. Rosemary Eckley, a graphic artist in New London, Wis., said she thought she was sleeping well on Ambien but woke to find her wrist broken, apparently in a fall while sleepwalking, she wrote in an e-mail exchange…A study by an Oregon State University group that reviews the safety and effectiveness of drugs found that Lunesta offered little benefit over generic Ambien or older benzodiazepines, but cost more. Jonae Barnes, a spokeswoman for Lunesta’s maker, Sepracor, said the company strongly disagreed and added that the Oregon group did not adequately consider waking time after falling asleep, an area in which Lunesta performed better. Users also sometimes report that Lunesta leaves a bad taste in their mouths, according to studies of the drug.