Oct. 22, 2003 -- Taking a pill every night may be a safe and effective way for insomniacs to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer for months or even years at a time.
The first major study to look at the long-term effects of using a drug to treat insomnia suggests that the latest generation of insomnia drugs can provide long-term relief from sleepless nights -- without losing their effectiveness over time.
"That combination -- improvement in all areas of falling asleep, staying asleep, and quality of sleep, along with an improvement in daytime functional ratings -- has never been reported in a study, let alone for six months," says researcher Andrew Krystal, MD, MS, associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
Although as many as a quarter of the estimated 2.5% of Americans who suffer from insomnia use insomnia medications on a nightly basis for four months or more, researchers say that until now there were no studies to show that long-term use of these drugs was either safe or effective.
Treating Insomnia Over the Long Haul
Estorra belongs to a class of drugs used to treat insomnia known as hypnotics and is currently under consideration for approval by the FDA. Other drugs in this class that are currently available for short-term treatment of insomnia include Sonata and Ambien.
Researchers say long-term use of insomnia medications has been traditionally discouraged for several reasons. For example, there were concerns that people might develop a tolerance for the drugs and they'd lose their effectiveness, or people might misuse or abuse the drugs.
But this study, which appears in the Nov. 1 issue of Sleep, showed that the drug provided about the same relief after six months of use as after the first week of treatment.
"It demonstrates that at least [Estorra] and probably other medications don't result in development of tolerance as is commonly assumed," says researcher James K. Walsh, PhD, senior scientist at the sleep medicine and research center at St. John's/St. Luke's Hospitals in St. Louis.