Psychological therapy more effective for insomnia than taking drugs

Bad news for the makers of sleeping pills: A new report in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association says that a six-week course of psychological therapy may be more effective for insomnia than taking drugs.

The new study indicates that while pills may be a good short-term fix, they aren't the best way to go for those with chronic problems. In the trial, researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway compared a six-week program of so-called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to the sleeping pill zopiclone, a drug that is very similar to Sepracor's Lunesta and was originally sold by Sanofi-Aventis in Europe; a third patient-arm got placebo, reports Forbes.

According to United Press International, Borge Sivertsen of the University of Bergen in Norway and colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial from January 2004 to December 2005 to compare the short- and long-term clinical efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and the non-benzodiazepine sleep medication zopiclone.

The trial included 46 adults -- average age 60.8 years; 22 women -- with chronic primary insomnia.

The total time spent awake during the night for the CBT group improved significantly more than both the placebo group at six weeks and the zopiclone group at both six weeks and six months. The zopiclone group did not differ significantly from the placebo group, according to Sivertsen. Total wake time at six weeks was reduced 52 percent in the CBT group compared with 4 percent and 16 percent in the zopiclone and placebo groups on PSG testing, respectively.

Using polysomnographic (PSG) testing, researchers determined the total time spent awake during the night for the CBT group improved significantly more than the group receiving the zopiclone or the placebo. On average, participants receiving CBT improved their PSG-registered sleep efficiency by 9 percent at post treatment, compared with a decline of 1 percent in the zopiclone group a difference that, researchers say, "was both statistically and clinically significant."

Researchers conclude, "Given the increasing amount of evidence of the lasting clinical effects of CBT and lack of evidence of long-term efficacy of hypnotics, clinicians should consider prescribing hypnotics only for acute insomnia," informs Ivanhoe.