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To Sleep, Perchance to Sleep Soundly

Is the new generation of sleeping pills the answer for insomnia?

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Insomnia has been around as long as sleep has. Some even believe that William Shakespeare was an insomniac, writing as vividly as he did about sleeplessness, tossing and turning, and sleepwalking in plays like Hamlet and Macbeth. Today, old Will has millions of fellow sufferers: in a 2002 survey, the National Sleep Foundation found that 58% of adults have trouble sleeping at least a few nights a week.

One option today's insomniacs have that Shakespeare didn't, of course, is the sleeping pill. These drugs have a checkered past -- those who remember the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland from overdoses of sleeping pills may instantly reject the thought of taking a pill to get to sleep.

But over the past 10 years, a new generation of sleep medications has been developed, offering the promise of a good night's sleep without the perils of next-day hangovers or long-term addiction. They're called non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, but you probably know them as Sonata, Ambien, or Lunesta. Currently, they're considered the first-line medical treatment for insomnia.

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