Management of Insomnia Disorder [Internet]

Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2015 Dec. Report No.: 15(16)-EHC027-EF.


Objective: To assess the efficacy, comparative effectiveness, and harms of treatments for insomnia disorder in the general adult population and older adults.

Data sources: Ovid MEDLINE®, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Embase®, and PsycINFO® bibliographic databases; hand searches of references of relevant studies.

Review methods: Two investigators screened abstracts and full-text articles of identified references for eligibility. Eligible studies included systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and long-term observational pharmacologic studies enrolling participants with insomnia disorder. We analyzed data for global outcomes (measures that assess both sleep and daytime functioning associated with sleep), sleep parameters, and harms. We assessed risk of bias for RCTs, extracted data, assessed quality of relevant systematic reviews, and evaluated strength of evidence for comparisons and outcomes. Pooled estimates were analyzed to assess the efficacy and comparative effectiveness of treatments.

Results: We searched bibliographic databases through January 2015 for studies evaluating psychological, pharmacologic, and complementary and alternative medicine interventions for insomnia disorder. We synthesized evidence from 181 unique studies (data from 128 unique RCTs and 3 systematic reviews that synthesize data from 42 unique RCTs) and 12 observational studies. Sample sizes and enrollment criteria varied; most trials were short in duration. Outcome reporting and intervention effect sizes varied, and a large placebo response was often observed. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) improved global outcomes and nearly all sleep parameters in the general adult population, older adults, and adults with pain. We found insufficient evidence on adverse effects of these interventions. Evidence was less robust for psychological interventions other than CBT-I, but low-strength evidence shows that some interventions improve some sleep outcomes. Low- to moderate-strength evidence indicated that the nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics eszopiclone and zolpidem, and the orexin receptor antagonist suvorexant, improved short-term global and sleep outcomes in general adult populations. Doxepin improved sleep outcomes. The absolute mean effect was small. Evidence for benzodiazepine hypnotics, melatonin agonists, and antidepressants in general populations and for most pharmacologic interventions in older adults was generally insufficient. Evidence on adverse effects from RCT data was generally insufficient or low strength. Observational studies suggest that hypnotics may be associated with dementia, fractures, and major injury. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labels warn about cognitive and behavioral changes, including driving impairment, and other harms, and advise lower doses for females and older/debilitated adults. Evidence on complementary and alternative medicine was insufficient. Evidence was insufficient to compare hypnotic medications within or across classes or versus CBT-I.

Conclusions: CBT-I or medical therapy with eszopiclone, zolpidem, and suvorexant improve global and sleep outcomes for insomnia disorder. Clinical significance, applicability, comparative effectiveness, and long-term efficacy, especially among older adults, are less well known. Effect sizes vary, and a large placebo response is sometimes observed. Observational studies suggest an association of hypnotics with infrequent but serious harms. FDA labels provide specific warnings and precautions for drugs approved for insomnia.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

Prepared for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Contract No. 290-2012-00016-I. Prepared by: Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center, Minneapolis, MN