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Half the benefit of sleeping pills comes from `placebo effect`

Last Updated: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 18:02

London: Much of the effects of sleeping pills are in the mind, according to a study.

Researchers in the UK and the U.S. said that the findings cast doubt over the effectiveness of medication for insomniacs, the Daily Mail reported.

They have urged insomnia sufferers to seek out psychological treatment, which has no side effects.

On the other hand sleeping pills have been criticised for having too many side effects – such as memory loss, extreme tiredness and balance problems – compared with their benefits.

Previous research suggests sleeping pills do not combat long-term sleep problems and cognitive behavioural therapy has been proven to work better.

A research team from the University of Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and the University of Connecticut looked at trials in which the effects of sleeping pills were compared with placebos, non-active substances that supposedly have little effect on the condition.

Altogether they analysed 13 clinical trials containing 65 different comparisons and more than 4,300 participants.

They looked at the difference between the drug response and placebo response, as well as the change that occurs after administration of a placebo – which includes factors such as improvement over the natural course of the condition.

They found that the placebo effect produced around 50 per cent of the benefits, with the active ingredient in the sleeping pills – known as Z-drugs – making up the rest.

“Psychological treatments for insomnia can work as effectively as sleeping tablets in the short term and better in the long term, so we should pay more attention to increasing access to these treatments for patients who might benefit,” the paper quoted lead author Professor Niroshan Siriwardena, from the University of Lincoln as saying.

The study was reported in the British Medical Journal.


First Published: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 18:02

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