Every time I attend the annual sleep meeting, there’s a disconnect between pharmaceutical research presented in the poster hall versus the exhibit hall; the former hall often showcases negative side effects and behaviors like sleep driving, sleep eating, sleep gambling, sleep shopping, and sleep sex-ing (ie. people taking sleep meds initiate sex with their partners while asleep but otherwise have a lower libido). The latter hall obviously focuses on the benefits of big pharma for health and well being and lures docs and scientists to their booths with free cookies, smoothies, and candy . Pharma used to hand out pens and many other wonderful gifts, but the Obama administration began to regulate this years ago.

Many of you may have followed the history of these sleep meds, intentionally or unintentionally. You may have come to learn that Ambien and Lunesta which are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the business are also the most dangerous. These drugs slam the central nervous systems with inhibitory chemicals that “work” because their users don’t remember waking up in the middle of the night-even if they did on countless occasions. At the very worst, users of Ambien lack awareness that they have walked to their car and drove it not until they hit someone or something. There’s also the issue of next day sleepiness coupled with drug dependence.

I’m a proponent that sleep meds do not work because chronic drug use of any sorts can re-wire the CNS and biochemical makeup of the body in a way that the brain and body requires the drug in order to work as is and falters without it–call it adaptation (big pharma) or call it drug dependence (academic research). Regardless of my opinion, I recommend reading this wonderful reporter-at-large story in the New Yorker about the history and new insights on the development of insomniac medication. It’s a billion+ dollar business already, but can one pharma giant–Merck–revolutionize the approach to treating sleep disorders and improving well being without sabotaging the CNS like is currently done? Suvorexant will tell.

The Big Sleep