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New Drug Helps Insomnia Sufferers Sleep Better

Suvorexant offers a new approach to fighting this major sleep disorder.

A young man suffering from insomnia-- by Alexia Severson

The Gist

If you are one of the millions of people in America suffering from insomnia, a new drug called suvorexant may be just what the doctor ordered, according to a new study published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Suvorexant differs from other drugs for insomnia because it targets and blocks specific chemical messengers in the brain called orexins, which regulate wakefulness.

Sleep is a key factor in public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults suffer from a sleep disorder. A lack of sleep often has dangerous outcomes and has been is “linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.”

The Expert Take

In this study, participants were given either a placebo or the drug suvorexant. Participants with insomnia who took suvorexant improved their sleep by 5 to 13 percent compared to those taking the placebo. They also experienced 21 to 37 fewer minutes awake during the night after they had fallen asleep.

Study author W. Joseph Herring, Executive Director of Clinical Research with Merck and the maker of suvorexant, said these results provide evidence that this new drug may be a successful alternative treatment for insomnia. The drug may also be suitable for elderly people, who make up the highest percentage of people suffering from insomnia.

“Suvorexant represents a new class of sleep medication that works by dampening orexin-mediated wakefulness, offering a potential novel future option to patients for the treatment of their insomnia," he said. "In the Phase 2B study, treatment with suvorexant over four weeks was shown to be well-tolerated and effective to help insomnia patients fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, and improved overall sleep efficiency.”

Source and Method

The study involved 254 people, ages 18 to 64, who were in good physical and mental health but had insomnia that was not due to another medical condition. Participants took either the drug or a placebo for four weeks, and then switched to the other treatment for another four weeks. They spent the night in a sleep laboratory with their sleep monitored on the first night with each treatment, and then again in the fourth week of each treatment.

The Takeaway

Sleep is critical to daily function and health, therefore the development of the drug suvorexant is an important step in helping people suffering from insomnia find sleep. The development of this new drug may also open doors to other alternative treatments, as well as a better understanding of insomnia itself.

According to the CDC, the recommended amount of sleep varies between individuals and changes with age. However, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults need anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation offers these tips to improve sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise in the few hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Avoid nicotine.

Other Research

In a study published in 2007 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, researchers examined the relationship between psychological and health-related quality of life variables in people with insomnia. Based on their findings, they concluded that insomnia is associated with increased stress, higher predisposition to arousal, and impaired health quality.

Another study published in 2005 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found a link between psychological health and sleep in breast cancer patients. The study evaluated the effect of cognitive-behavioral therapy on sleep. The results showed that participants who received the insomnia treatment had significantly better subjective sleep indices, a lower frequency of medicated nights, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and greater global quality of life at post-treatment.

From a different perspective, a study published in 2005 in BMJ compared the benefits and risks of short-term treatment with sedative hypnotics in older people with insomnia. The team found that the increased risk of adverse events among patients using sedatives is statistically significant in older people at risk of falls and cognitive impairment. Researchers concluded that the benefits of these drugs may not justify the increased risk in people over the age of 60.

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Tags: Drugs , Latest Studies & Research , Treatments

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