Objectives: To investigate the effectiveness of non-benzodiazepine hypnotics (Z drugs) and associated placebo responses in adults and to evaluate potential moderators of effectiveness in a dataset used to approve these drugs.
Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.
Data source: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Study selection: Randomised double blind parallel placebo controlled trials of currently approved Z drugs (eszopiclone, zaleplon, and zolpidem).
Data extraction: Change score from baseline to post-test for drug and placebo groups; drug efficacy analysed as the difference of both change scores. Weighted raw and standardised mean differences with their confidence intervals under random effects assumptions for polysomnographic and subjective sleep latency, as primary outcomes. Secondary outcomes included waking after sleep onset, number of awakenings, total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and subjective sleep quality. Weighted least square regression analysis was used to explain heterogeneity of drug effects.
Data synthesis: 13 studies containing 65 separate drug-placebo comparisons by type of outcome, type of drug, and dose were included. Studies included 4378 participants from different countries and varying drug doses, lengths of treatment, and study years. Z drugs showed significant, albeit small, improvements (reductions) in our primary outcomes: polysomnographic sleep latency (weighted standardised mean difference, 95% confidence interval -0.57 to -0.16) and subjective sleep latency (-0.33, -0.62 to -0.04) compared with placebo. Analyses of weighted mean raw differences showed that Z drugs decreased polysomnographic sleep latency by 22 minutes (-33 to -11 minutes) compared with placebo. Although no significant effects were found in secondary outcomes, there were insufficient studies reporting these outcomes to allow firm conclusions. Moderator analyses indicated that sleep latency was more likely to be reduced in studies published earlier, with larger drug doses, with longer duration of treatment, with a greater proportion of younger and/or female patients, and with zolpidem.
Conclusion: Compared with placebo, Z drugs produce slight improvements in subjective and polysomnographic sleep latency, especially with larger doses and regardless of type of drug. Although the drug effect and the placebo response were rather small and of questionable clinical importance, the two together produced to a reasonably large clinical response.