How do people with insomnia feel about sleeping pills?
Attitudes toward sleep medications differ from one American to the next, and between Americans and Australians, it turns out. Here’s a brief comparison that I hope will start a conversation.
I went to my family physician for a routine physical last week. I hadn’t had one in a while, so I decided to get the exam and requisitions for the usual blood work.
This doctor is one whose opinions I respect. But I never hesitate to speak up when information I have leads me to question those opinions. One topic we’ve had discussions about is insomnia and sleeping pills.
Sleeping pills usually tarnish with age. Zolpidem (Ambien), approved for the treatment of insomnia, is no different.
But a new study from Stanford suggests that low doses of zolpidem may help people recover more quickly from stroke. Here’s the gist of that study, published on December 18 in Brain, and what post-marketing studies tell us about zolpidem used for insomnia.
In the early 1990s, word was spreading that Halcion, a popular short-acting sleeping pill prescribed for insomnia, was a dangerous drug. Not only did it make users anxious, depressed, and suicidal.
It was also implicated in a series of murders. Sales of Halcion plunged. Today the drug is still on the market but is rarely prescribed.
Now zolpidem (Ambien) is receiving intensive post-marketing scrutiny, raising questions about the drug’s safety.
These days an old friend of mine is sliding deeper into dependence on alcohol. It’s sad and hard to watch. George stays with us twice a year while visiting his family, who live a few miles away. These family visits are fraught with discord. So by 5 p.m. George is often back at our house for the night—wine or whiskey in hand.
New research explains how alcohol dependence causes insomnia that persists for many years after withdrawal.
Roll over, Ambien! After much debate, the FDA has finally approved Merck’s new drug for insomnia. Expect to see Belsomra (a.k.a. suvorexant) on the market early next year.
So what can we hope for from this new sleeping pill and how does it differ from hypnotics available now?
Some people I know are perfectly comfortable taking sleeping pills and would be happy to use them for the rest of their lives. Others say they’re harmful, having a raft of side effects and degrading the quality of sleep we get.
The pros and cons of sleeping pills are too numerous to explore in a blog (I do lay them out in The Savvy Insomniac, my book). But here’s a summary of the numbers of people using sleep meds in the US, which meds we’re using, and who’s using them.