Sleepless? – Barry’s Gleanings

A sleeping pill seeking approval from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration was inspired by research on narcoleptic dogs - from The New York Times.

Suvorexant, a sleeping pill seeking approval from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration was inspired by research on narcoleptic dogs – photo from The New Yorker.

Do you think you need a sleeping pill? Think again. Sleeping pills may be killing as many people as cigarettes do!

In “The Big Sleep,” an article in The New Yorker, Ian Parker reports:

“In a recent paper in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, Daniel Kripke, a professor emeritus at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, examined five years of electronic medical records collected by a health system in Pennsylvania. He compared more than ten thousand patients who had been prescribed a sleep medicine—most commonly Ambien—and more than twenty thousand patients who had not. After adjusting for age, gender, smoking habits, obesity, ethnicity, alcohol use, and a history of cancer, and after controlling, as much as possible, for other diseases and disorders, Kripke found that people who had taken sleeping pills were more than three times as likely to have died during the study period as those who had not. Those on higher doses of the drugs were more than five times as likely to have died. . . . My best estimate is that drugs like zolpidem are killing as many people as cigarettes,” . . . That is, more than four hundred thousand Americans a year [my emphasis]. “And suppose they’re only killing a tenth as many people—you still wouldn’t want them on the market” . . . “The people who die after taking sleeping pills tend to be older and obese, and to have multiple illnesses,” Kripke said. “So if they happen to die in the middle of the night nobody supposes that it’s from the sleeping pill. And there’s no way of proving that it was”(56). . . .

[T]he pharmaceutical companies, and the F.D.A., judge a sleep drug by its impact on sleeplessness. That impact is assessed objectively, with electronic monitoring, and subjectively, using patient reports. Objective data show that insomnia medications, on average, provide a gain of only ten or twenty minutes in total sleep time[my emphasis]. But a patient’s perception of improved sleep is also a recognized part of the clinical data. . . .

[T]he subjective [perception of improved sleep] also makes the amnesiac effect of sleep drugs oddly advantageous to those who manufacture them: the drugs inhibit people from creating memories of waking during the night”[my emphasis] (60).  . .

[Pharmaceutical giant] Merck—a company whose worldwide sales last year totaled forty-seven billion dollars [is promoting suvorexant as a new, better sleeping pill to replace pills such as Ambien that have had some spectacularly bad reactions in some people].

“Research has linked zolpidem and similar drugs to depression, suicide, and car accidents; there are also data connecting zolpidem to cancer. (Such numbers do not establish causation.) The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently reported that E.R. cases involving zolpidem had risen from six thousand, in 2005, to nineteen thousand, in 2010” (56).

In trials, “Ambien monkeys were dozily incompetent even at doses too low to have initiated sleep” (61). “

[Now Merck will be promoting suvorexant]. Parker concludes, “How successfully can a pharmaceutical giant—through advertising and sales visits to doctors’ offices—sell a drug at a dose that has been repeatedly described as ineffective by the scientists who developed it? (63)

For the complete article, see – “The Big Sleep: Insomnia drugs like Ambien are notorious for their side effects. Has Merck created a blockbuster replacement?” by Ian Parker p. 50-63 in The New Yorker, Dec. 9, 2013.

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A sleeping pill seeking approval from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration was inspired by research on narcoleptic dogs - from The New York Times.

Do you want to take a chance with a sleeping pills?

But what can you do if you can’t sleep?

I suggest – Try natural things: turn off electronic devices two hours before you want to sleep, exercise more, drink less caffeine, practice conscious breathing, repeat long prayers, count your blessings, listen to soothing instrumentals . . . See what works for you.

One friend, the best-read person I know, just gets up and starts reading. Barry listens to meditation tapes. Although he’s tried and the information good, Barry has never made it through the whole the tape by Thich Nhat Hanh. Barry says the trick is to try to stay awake.  My grandmother kept her journal beside her bed. Reading a chemistry textbook works for me :).

Sleeping pills are good for the stockholders of the pharmaceutical companies; they aren’t likely to be good for you. If you are only going to get 10 to 20 minutes in total increased sleep time by taking a sleeping pill, why risk the very real side effects?

Wishing you good sleep – naturally.

Aloha,  Barry and Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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