For people with insomnia, there’s a new prescription sleep drug called Belsomra. It acts differently on the brain than current medications like Ambien.
Consumer Reports worked with medical experts at the Dartmouth Medical School to analyze Belsomra’s effectiveness and safety. The research found that people taking 15 or 20 milligrams of Belsomra got an average of about 16 minutes more sleep per night and fell asleep about 6 minutes faster compared with those who took a placebo.
The studies also showed that the small improvements in sleep didn’t necessarily translate into people feeling more refreshed. One of the most common side effects was next-day drowsiness. That happened more than twice as often with people who were in the test group vs. people who took a placebo. Along with drowsiness, there were rare reports of hallucinations and temporary paralysis while falling asleep or waking up.
Bottom line: Because all prescription sleep medications can have serious side effects and offer only a limited benefit, Consumer Reports recommends trying other strategies first and avoiding drugs if at all possible.
For people with occasional insomnia, quitting smoking, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and evening, and not watching TV or using a computer in bed can help. And for those with more persistent sleeplessness, working with a cognitive behavioral therapist may help. Up to 80 percent of those with chronic insomnia found relief.