New Drug Offers Hope to Insomniacs

First Posted: Nov 29, 2012 04:03 AM EST

Insomnia that affects all age groups, affects women more often than men. All adults experience insomnia at one time or another in their lives. Difficulty falling asleep or waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep can trigger illness and significant life stress. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder.

People who are victims of insomnia generally perform some relaxation exercises, undergo some lifestyle changes, abstain from alcohol or consume certain medicines.

These treatments can be now put on hold as a new drug named 'suvorexant' offers new hope to people with insomnia.

The new drug 'suvorexant' obstructs the chemical messengers in the brain known as orexins. These are neurotransmitters that regulate wakefulness, arousal and appetite.  It is reported that other drugs used to cure insomnia affect different brain receptors.

Suvorexant intake leads to an enhanced sleep time. To observe its effect, a study focused on 254 people in the age group of 18 to 64 who were in good physical and mental health. These subjects suffered from insomnia that was not a result of any medical condition.

For this research, the subjects had the drug or placebo for nearly four weeks. After four weeks they switched to the other treatment for another four weeks. The subjects were asked to spend the night in the sleep laboratory where their sleep was monitored on the first night with each treatment and then again in the fourth week of each treatment.

On doing so the researchers noticed that the subject's sleep efficiency, which reflects the total amount of time they sleep during a fixed eight-hour time in bed, improved by 5 to 13 percent compared to those taking the placebo. Compared to those who took the placebo they also experienced 21 to 37 fewer minutes awake during the night after they had fallen asleep.

"This study provides evidence that suvorexant may offer a successful alternative strategy for treating insomnia," said study author W. Joseph Herring, MD, PhD, of North Wales, Penn., executive director of clinical research with Merck, the maker of suvorexant, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Suvorexant was generally well-tolerated, and there were no serious side effects."

According to Herring, longer studies have recently been conducted on suvorexant, along with studies to determine whether the drug could be safe and effective for elderly people, who make up a large percentage of those suffering from insomnia.

The study has been published in the November 28, 2012, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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