Objective: To review current issues in the pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic management of insomnia.
Data sources: Controlled trials and case studies identified via MEDLINE for 1990 through April 1999 under the search terms insomnia, hypnotics, flurazepam, quazepam, estazolam, temazepam, triazolam, zolpidem, zaleplon, L-846, CL-284,846, melatonin, and valerian.
Data synthesis: Insomnia is a common, undertreated disorder. Nonpharmacologic management strategies (e.g., stimulus control, relaxation therapy, sleep hygiene) are therapeutic options that, compared with medication use, provide more sustained effects. The benzodiazepines and zolpidem are the most commonly prescribed hypnotic agents, but their use is associated with tolerance and central nervous system adverse effects. A new nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic agent, zaleplon, was very recently approved in the United States. Because of its short half-life, zaleplon will be useful in patients experiencing difficulty in falling asleep and in those who wake up at night and have trouble falling back to sleep. Antidepressants, antihistamines, and alternative medications are other treatment options. To avoid complications of therapy, hypnotic agents should be used at their lowest possible doses and for limited treatment durations.
Conclusion: Pharmacotherapy is currently the most common treatment modality for insomnia, but long-term use of hypnotic agents can become complicated by drug tolerance, dependence, or rebound insomnia. Nonpharmacologic options--including combinations of behavioral interventions, sleep-restriction therapy, and patient education--provide longer-lasting benefits.