Experimental drug improves sleep in older patients, Wake Forest Baptist study shows

04/30/04

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Older people with insomnia slept better and longer after taking an experimental sleep medication, according to research at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

W. Vaughn McCall, M.D., a sleep expert, presented his findings today (May 6) at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in New York City. The study showed the drug, called eszopiclone, significantly reduced both the amount of time it took to fall asleep and the tendency to wake up repeatedly once sleep had begun. It also increased total sleep time.

McCall, who also is professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said the patients were monitored in the medical center's sleep laboratory, so sleep could be documented by its equipment.

The 264 insomnia patients in the study, all between 65 and 85 years old, were randomly assigned to either take eszopiclone or an inactive placebo, and neither patient nor the staff monitoring them knew which they were taking. Each patient completed sleep diaries every night for two weeks.

When the code was broken to determine which patients were on placebo and who got the actual drug, patients treated with eszopiclone showed improvement in all measures of insomnia including falling asleep, staying asleep and total sleep time, as well as a reduction in frequency and duration of napping, he said.

Though 40 million Americans suffer from insomnia, McCall said the study focused on patients 65 and older because insomnia tends to be more common in older people.

"The elderly are more easily awakened by noise, pain or light and tend to have difficulty sleeping for extended periods and achieving deep, restful sleep states," McCall said. "As a result, elderly adults often get less sleep than they need, leading to increased napping or diminished next-day functioning, which can impact their quality of life

McCall said the study also evaluated patients on whether their quality of life improved, using standard quality of life tests. The results showed significant improvement on eszopiclone. "Since improving patients' quality of life is the goal of treatment, this is an interesting finding that merits further study," he said.

Eszopiclone is made by Sepracor Inc., a pharmaceutical company, which paid for the study.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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