New Rx Sleep Drug: Promising, or Perilous?


Will Intermezzo Mean More People on Sleep Drugs?

Dr. Nanci Yuan, medical director of the Pediatric Pulmonary Sleep Center at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, said she worried that this number could increase once Intermezzo came on the market.

"Prescribers may order this 'lower-safer' formulation more readily to anyone with a sleeping problem than they would for standard Ambien," she said in an email to ABC News.

Other experts, however, said Intermezzo would cut down on the use of sleeping aids, since the drug is used only as needed and not every night.

"Currently, people are stuck with making a decision at the beginning of the night if they want to have a great night's sleep or a terrible one, so they take the drug even though they might not need it," said Thomas Roth, director of the sleep center at Henry Ford Hospital. Roth was involved in the research for Intermezzo.

Of course, sleep aids are not the only solution for many who wake up in the middle of the night. A number of underlying conditions are thought to worsen middle of the night awakening -- psychiatric disorders, chronic pain, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, menopause and prostate problems among them.

Treating these conditions often leads to resolution of sleeping problems without the need of sleep aids. In other cases, something as simple as cutting down on alcohol consumption before bed may help improve sleep. While alcohol can help in falling asleep initially, it makes it more difficult to enter deeper stages of sleep.

Anxiety is also linked to waking up in the middle of the night. People worry about the effects of not getting enough sleep, and this anxiety quickly jumps to other areas of life, leading to increased arousal. Experts usually recommend behavioral changes to cut down on anxiety and stimulation before sleep.

When prescription sleep aids are necessary, the first bit of advice is always the same -- check with your doctor.

"In medicine, we constantly weigh the cost and the benefit to make the best decision, and the decision to use Intermezzo will be no different," Lieberman said. "Careful patient education will remain one of the most important factors."

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