Lunesta is a name-brand sleeping aid developed by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. Currently there are no generic, non-name-brand versions of this medication available. Lunesta has been prescribed more than 31 million times since first being cleared by the FDA in 2004. It claims to be the most popular sleep aid. Lunesta is prescribed to individuals suffering from insomnia. Insomnia is a condition which is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or a susceptibility to waking up multiple times during the course of a night’s sleep. Although Lunesta has helped some to sleep better, there are a number of serious side effects that can accompany taking Lunesta.
The Side Effects
Lunesta side effects vary from person to person. Many of these side effects are short term. However, in addition to more direct, short-term Lunesta side effects, there is some evidence that taking Lunesta may result in increased risk of both cancer and death.
Cancer or Death
Long-term Lunesta side effects have recently been brought into the public eye. This is largely as a result of a concerning new study which found that cancer and death rates of sleeping pill consumers were higher than the same rates found among a population of people that did not take sleeping pills. The study was released in February of 2012.
In the study, the health of 10,531 individuals who took either Lunesta or a similar brand of sleeping pill was monitored. Each sleeping pill patient’s health was compared to that of at least two individuals that were of a similar age and background, but did not take sleeping pills. In the study, individuals who took sleeping pills as rarely as 18 times a year were more than 3.5 times more likely to suffer premature death than those who did not take sleeping pills.
Additionally, those who took 132 or more sleeping pills per year were more than 5 times more likely to suffer premature death than those who abstained from taking sleeping pills. The study also found that individuals who took 132 or more sleeping pills per year were 35 percent more likely to develop cancer during the period of the study than members of the control group who did not take any sleeping pills. The results of this study have led to great concern among sleeping pill takers and medical professionals about the long-term safety concerns associated with taking sleeping pills like Lunesta.
Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a condition where an individual will experience partial arousal. In a state of partial arousal, a person fails to fully come out of a sleeping state. As a result, they may be capable of performing relatively complex tasks such as operating a car or other machinery, making phone calls, eating food or having sex without consciously realize what they are doing. Lunesta side effects like sleepwalking can be very dangerous, as they may cause a Lunesta taker to engage in risky behaviors.
Lunesta side effects like sleepwalking are sometimes accompanied by memory loss. However, memory loss may also take place independent of sleepwalking. In cases of memory loss, Lunesta takers generally report short-term memory issues. Lunesta side effects involving memory loss usually result in an inability to store new memories in the hours after taking the drug, as opposed to difficulty recalling prior experiences.
Lunesta side effects may also be caused by cessation from the drug. In some cases, Lunesta has been shown to be habit forming. The body may develop a dependency for Lunesta. As a result, Lunesta side effects can include renewed and stronger symptoms of insomnia after an individual has 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 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 that 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 sleepwalk 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.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.
- “Incidence of Cancer in Individuals Receiving Chronic Zopiclone or Eszopiclone Requires Prospective Study.” Journal of Clinical Oncology. 23.31 (2005): 8134-8136. Web. 12 May. 2013.
- Kripke, Daniel. “Who Should Sponsor Sleep Disorders Pharmaceutical Trials?.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 3.7 (2007): 671-673. Web. 12 May. 2013.
- “About Lunesta.” Lunesta. Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, n.d. Web. 12 May 2013.