Lunesta is a sleeping medication manufactured by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. It is used to treat insomnia, a condition that causes people to have difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep. Insomnia is a regular problem for about one in every ten American adults.

Lunesta falls into a category of medications known as sedatives. Sedatives are used to lower energy and anxiety levels. As a sedative aimed specifically at bringing on sleep, Lunesta falls into a specific category of sedatives called sedative-hypnotics. Sedative-hypnotics are also sometimes simply called hypnotics.

Lunesta Effects

The effects of Lunesta are aimed at helping people fall asleep and then remain asleep for approximately eight hours. While some other sleeping medications are focused exclusively on either helping individuals get to sleep or helping them remain asleep, Lunesta professes to do both.

When taken as directed, an individual with insomnia symptoms consumes Lunesta directly before going to bed. The drug’s manufacturers recommend that the drug is taken on an empty stomach, as this aids the speed of its absorption. Once Lunesta has been consumed, the onset of its sedative, calming effects usually follow quite rapidly.

Taking Lunesta may result in building up a tolerance to its sedative effects. However, the makers of Lunesta maintain that there is no set time limit for how long an individual may take Lunesta. Similarly, cessation from taking Lunesta may result in insomnia symptoms which are more pronounced than they were prior to taking Lunesta. Additionally, severe withdrawal symptoms may present themselves. However, Lunesta’s manufacturers claim that in most cases, worsened insomnia symptoms do not take place in people who have stopped taking the drug.

Lunesta Chemical Makeup

The active ingredient in Lunesta is called Eszopiclone. Eszopiclone is what is known as a selective GABA reuptake inhibitor. GABA receptors in the nervous system are responsible for partially responsible for regulating feelings of excitement and anxiety. Selective GABA reuptake inhibitors like Eszopiclone bind to certain GABA receptor sites and partially block the function of GABA receptors, resulting in sedation. Selective GABA reuptake inhibitors like Lunesta are meant to be an improvement over older sedatives. Older GABA inhibiting sedatives blocked more GABA receptor sites, theoretically leading to more side effects.

Lunesta Background

Lunesta was first approved by the FDA in 2004. Lunesta claims to be the most prescribed name-brand sleeping pill currently available, with over 31 million prescriptions written for it. Unlike some other popular sleeping aids, there is currently no generic, non-name-brand version of Lunesta available for purchase.

Some of the claims made by the makers of Lunesta have come under fire by members of the medical community. Specifically some find the number of industry-sponsored medical trials testing Lunesta to be worrisome. Industry-sponsored trials are paid for by the makers of a drug, as opposed to an independent entity, such as an academic or government institution.

A general comparison between industry-sponsored clinical trials and independent trials has shown that industry-sponsored trials are 3.6 times more likely to present results which are favorable for the product being tested. Medical professionals who are critical of Lunesta feel that some of Lunesta’s claims may misrepresent the drug.

Specifically, Lunesta’s claim to effectively aid sleep has been brought under scrutiny. In trials, Lunesta was found to only increase patient’s sleep time an average of 11 to 12 minutes more than a placebo.  Additionally, some medical professionals feel that the dangers and potential side effects which may accompany Lunesta were under-represented in industry-sponsored trials.

Problems with Lunesta

Although Lunesta may help some people with insomnia, there are a number of serious side effects which may accompany taking this drug. Some individuals that take Lunesta experience memory loss during the hours following consumption of the drug. Another serious side effect is the potential to sleep walk after taking this drug. Sleepwalking is a particularly dangerous side effect, as in some instances individuals have driven cars, and cooked and eaten food while in an only partially conscious state.

New research has also suggested a link between consumption of sleeping pills like Lunesta and an increased risk of both death and cancer. More research needs to be done on this subject. However, the cumulative number of side effects associated with Lunesta has led to a number of lawsuits by consumers who feel they were not adequately informed of the dangers associated with taking this medication.

View Sources
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  2. Kripke, Daniel. "Who Should Sponsor Sleep Disorders Pharmaceutical Trials?." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 3.7 (2007): 671-673. Web. 12 May. 2013.
  3. "About Lunesta." Lunesta. Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, n.d. Web. 12 May 2013.