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Experimental Insomnia Drug Shows Promise
Date:11/28/2012

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 28 (HealthDay News) -- A new insomnia drug helped people get a bit more shut-eye in a lab study, researchers report.

The drug, known as suvorexant, is being developed by Merck Research Laboratories, which funded and conducted the study. The medication is not available yet, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing it for possible approval, the researchers said.

In the United States, about 10 percent of people say they have chronic insomnia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are sleep aids on the market, but they do not work for everyone and they can have side effects that include sleepwalking, daytime drowsiness and confusion.

Suvorexant works differently from those drugs, zeroing in on specific brain chemicals involved in the ability to sleep, explained study author Dr. William Herring, executive director of clinical research at Merck.

The study, published online Nov. 28 and in the Dec. 4 print issue of the journal Neurology, included 254 healthy adults with primary insomnia, which means it wasn't caused by an underlying physical or mental health problem.

All of the patients spent four weeks on one of four doses of suvorexant and another four weeks on placebo pills. They had their sleep monitored in a sleep lab on their first night with each treatment, and then came back again after four weeks.

Overall, Herring's team found, people slept better with the drug, although the improvement was not dramatic.

At the outset, when patients spent eight hours in bed, they were typically asleep for 66 percent of that time. One day on suvorexant boosted that by anywhere from 5 percent to 13 percent, relative to the placebo. Between 21 and 37 fewer minutes were spent awake during those sleep periods.

There was still a benefit four weeks later. One expert pointed out, however, that the
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