Behavioral and pharmacological therapies for late-life insomnia: a randomized controlled trial

JAMA. 1999 Mar 17;281(11):991-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.281.11.991.


Context: Insomnia is a prevalent health complaint in older adults. Behavioral and pharmacological treatments have their benefits and limitations, but no placebo-controlled study has compared their separate and combined effects for late-life insomnia.

Objective: To evaluate the clinical efficacy of behavioral and pharmacological therapies, singly and combined, for late-life insomnia.

Design and setting: Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial, at a single academic medical center. Outpatient treatment lasted 8 weeks with follow-ups conducted at 3, 12, and 24 months.

Subjects: Seventy-eight adults (50 women, 28 men; mean age, 65 years) with chronic and primary insomnia.

Interventions: Cognitive-behavior therapy (stimulus control, sleep restriction, sleep hygiene, and cognitive therapy) (n = 18), pharmacotherapy (temazepam) (n = 20), or both (n = 20) compared with placebo (n = 20).

Main outcome measures: Time awake after sleep onset and sleep efficiency as measured by sleep diaries and polysomnography; clinical ratings from subjects, significant others, and clinicians.

Results: The 3 active treatments were more effective than placebo at posttreatment assessment; there was a trend for the combined approach to improve sleep more than either of its 2 single components (shorter time awake after sleep onset by sleep diary and polysomnography). For example, the percentage reductions of time awake after sleep onset was highest for the combined condition (63.5%), followed by cognitive-behavior therapy (55%), pharmacotherapy (46.5%), and placebo (16.9%). Subjects treated with behavior therapy sustained their clinical gains at follow-up, whereas those treated with drug therapy alone did not. Long-term outcome of the combined intervention was more variable. Behavioral treatment, singly or combined, was rated by subjects, significant others, and clinicians as more effective than drug therapy alone. Subjects were also more satisfied with the behavioral approach.

Conclusions: Behavioral and pharmacological approaches are effective for the short-term management of insomnia in late life; sleep improvements are better sustained over time with behavioral treatment.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / drug therapy
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / therapy*
  • Temazepam / therapeutic use*


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Temazepam