Half of the benefit of sleeping pills comes from the placebo effect, according to a team of international researchers from the University of Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and University of Connecticut.
Half of the benefit of sleeping pills comes from the placebo effect
Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired. Millions of prescriptions for sleeping pills are written every year as a short-term treatment for insomnia, and their use has increased in recent years.
But a new study in the British Medical Journal indicates that once the placebo effect of sleeping pills is discounted, the “drug effect is of questionable clinical importance”.
International researchers re-analysed information contained in 13 clinical trials submitted by pharmaceutical companies to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of new products.
The trials looked at the effects of hypnotic pills, commonly known as z-drugs, on more than 4,300 participants. Professor Niroshan Siriwardena, from the University of Lincoln's School of Health and Social Care, said: "Our analysis showed that z-drugs did reduce the length of time taken for subjects to fall asleep”.
“But around half of the effect of the drug was a placebo response."
“There was not enough evidence from the trials to show other benefits that might be important to people with sleep problems, such as sleep quality or daytime functioning.”
Side effects of z-drugs include memory loss, fatigue or impaired balance, and experts are starting to question whether the benefits of the pills actually outweigh these.
Professor Siriwardena believes that doctors should look elsewhere for the long-term treatment of insomnia. He said: “Psychological treatments for insomnia can work as effectively as sleeping tablets in the short-term and better in the long-term, so we should pay more attention to increasing access to these treatments for patients who might benefit."
For example, cognitive behavioural therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for insomnia in a number of studies. Cognitive behavioural therapy is available on the NHS, but waiting lists can be long.
For quick access to private cognitive therapy in the future, look for a private health insurance policy with cover for psychiatric outpatient treatment.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012