The panel was concerned that many of the drugs now used to treat insomnia, such as antidepressants and antihistamines, have not been approved for this indication; their efficacy in treating chronic insomnia has not been proven. Even those medications that have been approved for insomnia are approved only for short-term use, leaving chronic sufferers with few proven options. The panel noted that newer benzodiazepine receptor agonist medications have been developed that have fewer and less severe adverse effects than other medications, and show promise for long-term use, but this requires further evaluation. The panel also expressed concern that many insomnia sufferers self-medicate with alcohol, despite the numerous risks involved and the clear evidence that alcohol actually has a negative overall effect on the quality of sleep.
Research indicates that behavioral methods such as relaxation training can be effective to treat insomnia when combined with cognitive therapies specifically targeted at anxiety-producing beliefs and erroneous beliefs about sleep and sleep loss. Moreover, this approach is unlikely to carry adverse side effects, and its benefits may be longer lasting than pharmacological interventions. There are few practitioners trained in these therapies, however.
Alan Leshner, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and chair of the conference panel explained, "we know that patients can struggle for years with insomnia, and we know that th
Contact: Kelli Marciel
NIH/Office of the Director