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A Sleeping Pill Without Addiction and Memory Loss is on the Horizon

Update Date: Apr 05, 2013 12:43 PM EDT

Getting a good night's sleep can do wonders for the body and mind. People who often have difficulty sleeping turn to medications and risk addiction or memory complications. Sleeping disorders currently afflict 70 million Americans with 44 percent of Americans under 25-years-old reporting that they have accidentally fallen asleep during daytime hours due to the lack of a good night's sleep. According to a new study headed by Jason Uslander of Merck Pharmaceuticals, a new type of drugs might be able to take away the consequences of the current sleeping pills. Although research into this new agent, known as DORA-22, which seems to regulate sleep without side effects, is very new, the researchers are optimistic that this class of new drugs can provide a better sleeping experience.

The study's researchers compared the effects of DORA-22 to three common sleeping pills known as diazepam (Valium), zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta). These sleeping pills work by slowing down brain activity and promoting longer sleep. The researchers administered the drugs to animals and measured the animals' memory and reaction time. The researchers found that the rats that were given a high dosage of the current medications had more difficulty recalling the familiarity of certain items. The rats that were given DORA-22 did not have the same amount of memory complications. When given to rhesus monkeys, the researchers found that the three sleeping pills slowed down the monkeys' responses when they were given a touch screen task. The researchers found that when the monkeys were given dosages of DORA-22 that would be considered 30 times stronger than the lowest dosage of one of the pills still did not have impaired functions.

"It's very enticing because there are some clear results that show [that these drugs] differ from old hypnotic drugs in terms of affecting cognition and memory in two animal species," Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, who was not a part of the study, said. Dr. Mignot is the director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences.

The researchers stated that DORA-22 is effective in blocking orexins, which are brain chemicals that are responsible for wakefulness. The DORA-22 agent binds to the orexin receptors found in the brain and helps regulate them in order to allow the individual to sleep. The researchers noted that DORA-22 does not seem to influence the pleasure center of the brain like the other drugs do, which would ideally prevent people from becoming addicted to the drugs. However, the researchers reasoned that since this agent does not affect the pleasure areas, it might promote bad moods. More research will need to be done regarding the side effects of this new agent before it can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The study was published in the Science Translational Medicine.

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