The Importance of Residual Effects When Choosing a Hypnotic: The Unique Profile of Zaleplon

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Background: Insomnia is a prevalent medical disorder that has significant effects on occupational performance, health, and quality of life. Insomnia places an enormous burden on society through increased visits to physicians, loss of productivity in the workplace, and an increased rate of accidents. An estimated sum of $100 million is spent each year on direct treatment of unresolved insomnia. Physicians need to initiate early effective treatment to prevent development of chronic insomnia and its associated morbidity. Institution of good sleep hygiene practices may be useful in some patients but may not be adequate for resolution of all sleep problems. Behavioral treatments, while effective and durable, are time consuming and not widely utilized in clinical practice. Pharmacotherapy includes benzodiazepine hypnotics, but concerns regarding adverse effects (e.g., residual sedation) prompted the search for safer options.

Data Sources: Published and presented studies containing clinical data on zaleplon, a new nonbenzodiazepine sleep medication, were identified via MEDLINE, Current Contents (ISI database), bibliographic reviews, and consultation with sleep specialists.

Results: Zaleplon effectively shortens sleep onset time and improves the quality of sleep in patients with insomnia. Whether administered at bedtime or later at night, zaleplon is devoid of residual sedative effects that impair next-day functioning. Follow-up studies evaluating the long-term efficacy and safety of zaleplon showed that decreased time to sleep onset was maintained during therapy lasting up to 52 weeks, without a withdrawal syndrome after discontinuation.

Conclusion: Insomnia is recurrent and unpredictable in nature. Despite the long-term morbidity of this sleep disorder, research evidence and practice guidelines have not explored long-term use of hypnotics. Many patients could benefit from long-term drug therapy with a sleep medication that is devoid of residual effects and can be taken at bedtime or later as symptoms occur, rather than nightly in anticipation of a sleep problem.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2001;3(2):53-60