Study says therapy better than pills in treating sleep-onset insomnia

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The findings show non-drug techniques yield better short- and long-term results than the most widely prescribed sleeping pill, zolpidem, commonly known as Ambien. “Sleeping pills are the most frequent treatment for insomnia, yet CBT techniques clearly were more successful in helping the majority of study participants to become normal sleepers,” said study leader Gregg Jacobs.

For the study, researchers conducted a clinical trial involving young and middle-aged adults with chronic sleep-onset insomnia. Interventions included behavioral and relaxation techniques, pharmacotherapy, or combined therapy compared with placebo.

Researchers measured sleep over an eight-week period: at mid- treatment, when pharmacotherapy subjects were still taking a nightly dose of Ambien, and at the end of the period, when Ambien subjects gradually tapered their medication and then discontinued it entirely. The main measure was sleep-onset latency.

CBT and combination groups showed the greatest changes in sleep-onset latency at mid-treatment, followed by the pharmacotherapy group, which showed a slight improvement. The moderate improvements observed in the Ambien group at mid-treatment, however, were not maintained after the drug was discontinued. CBT and combined therapy also produced the best sleep efficiency and number of normal sleepers by the end of treatment. There was no advantage of combined therapy over CBT alone.