Americans spend nearly $5 billion a year for sleep medications that are only marginally effective.
An analysis of sleeping pill studies financed by the National Institutes of Health found that newer sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata reduced the average time to go to sleep by just under 13 minutes compared with fake pills.
Meanwhile, people who took the sleeping pills increased their total sleep time by just over 11 minutes compared with those who took fake pills.
As for older sleeping medications like Halcion and Restoril, people who took the drugs fell asleep 10 minutes faster and slept 32 minutes longer than those taking a placebo.
Yet, the participants believed they had slept longer, about 52 extra minutes with the older drugs and 32 minutes with the newer drugs.
People may believe they sleep longer than they really do when they take sleeping pills because of a condition called anterograde amnesia, which causes trouble with forming memories. When people wake up after taking sleeping pills, they may, in fact, simply forget that they had been unable to sleep.
The pills, though questionable in their effectiveness, are extremely popular even though they can cost up to $4 per pill. They’ve also been linked to a number of serious, though relatively uncommon, side effects, such as sleepwalking, sleep-eating, and traveler’s amnesia.
* New York Times October 23, 2007