Sleep: More Pills for Insomnia

Armen Hareyan's picture

Sleeping Pills

This is likely to be a year that increasing numbers of insomnia sufferers get a good night's sleep - thanks to a slew of new medications.

"Over the last year, there has been a sea-change in the attitude about insomnia and an acknowledgment that there is a role for medication and behavior therapy in this condition," said Rafael Pelayo, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Many of Pelayo's patients suffer from insomnia, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, affects more than 70 million Americans.

Three new sleeping pills, including Lunesta, were brought to market in 2005, and several more are expected to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this year.


Another change for patients: the generic version of Sanofi-Aventis' Ambien, the most widely prescribed sleeping aid on the market, will be available in October.

Pelayo emphasized that a sleep doctor's ultimate goal is to help patients sleep without medication; at Stanford, this is achieved through its pioneering behavioral treatment programs. Still, he added, sleeping pills can play an early, important role in treatment.

According to IMS Health, a provider of health-care information, nearly 25 million prescriptions for sleep medications were written in the first half of 2005. Pelayo, who consults for several drug makers, thinks these numbers will rise in 2006, as the new pills are safer than older-generation sleeping drugs. "We can now prescribe these pills with greater confidence," he said.

From a forecast from members of Stanford University School of Medicine about events and developments to watch in the coming months.