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Newly studied sleep medication can cause unwanted side effects

Posted October 28, 2015

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— As many as 70 million Americans wake up feeling exhausted and Consumer Reports recently looked into newly released prescription sleep drugs on the market.

Merck is promoting its new sleep medication, Belsomra, which shows its difference, chemically, from older ones.

To analyze its effectiveness and safety, Consumer Reports worked with medical experts at Dartmouth Medical School.

“The research shows that people taking 15 or 20 milligrams of Belsomra got an average of about 16 minutes more sleep per night and fell asleep about 6 minutes faster compared to those who took a placebo,” said Lisa Gill of Consumer Reports.

Gill said the small improvements didn’t translate into people feeling more refreshed.

“One of the most common side effects was next-day drowsiness,” Gill said. “That happened more than twice as often with people who were in the test group versus people who took a placebo.”

Along with drowsiness, there were rare reports of hallucinations and temporary paralysis while falling asleep or waking up.

“[The] Bottom line is that since all prescription sleep medications can have serious side effects and offer only a limited benefit, we recommend trying other strategies first and avoiding drugs if at all possible,” Gill said.

WRAL’s Health Team Expert, Dr. Allen Mask, said people who smoke and suffer from occasional insomnia should quit smoking—it could help.

Mask also suggested cutting back on caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and evening, and to avoid looking at TV, computer or smart phone screens before going to bed.


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