"The amount of additional sleep was not tremendous," said Dr. Carl Bazil, director of the division of epilepsy and sleep at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
The effect was essentially comparable to what has been seen with other sleep medications, said Bazil, who was not involved in the research.
But, he said, suvorexant is seen as a potentially important development in the world of sleep medicine, because the drug blocks specific brain chemicals called orexins, which help keep people awake. Standard sleep medications work more widely throughout the brain, Bazil explained, which is why they can have a host of side effects.
"The way [suvorexant] works makes a lot of sense," Bazil said. "The hope is that it will help some people who haven't responded to [other drugs], and have fewer side effects."
It's promising news, Bazil added, that there were no serious side effects in this study.
The most common side effects were sleepiness (reported by about 10 percent of patients on the two higher doses of suvorexant), headache (reported by about 5 percent), dizziness and abnormal dreams (5 percent).
There are still many questions, including whether the drug would benefit people with insomnia due to a health condition, which doctors call secondary insomnia.
The study also excluded adults aged 65 or older -- an age group commonly affected by insomnia. But, Herring said, seniors were part of a larger, 12-month trial, and Merck has submitted those results to the FDA.
Another sleep specialist said the findings show "some potential benefit" from suvorexant, but he cautioned insomnia sufferers against relying completely on any drug.
"Medication can be important," said Dr. William Kohler, who directs the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill. "But in the long run, the best methods for treating insomnia are behavioral techniques."
Kohler said cognitive behavioral thera
All rights reserved