As far back as ancient times, early researchers have worked hard to try and devise helpful sleeping aids. Early attempts included the use of wine, opium, the bark or seeds of different plants, and even lettuce juice. However, it was not until relatively recently that chemical drugs were introduced as a means to counter narcolepsy, insomnia, and other sleep problems.
As scientists cultivated a better understanding of how sleep functions, their research led to more effective treatments for sleep disorders. Between the 19th and late 20th century, sleep aides underwent their own evolution, leading to the medications patients all over the world rely on today.
For students interested in the stories behind important pharmaceutical breakthroughs, here is a closer look at the history of sleeping pills.
Studies Into Sleep Only Began in the 19h Century
While early attempts had been made towards creating sleeping aids, it took some time before these approaches began to develop the kind of scientific rigour seen today. It was only in 1809 when scientists turned to evidence-based medical approaches to sleep, with the neuro-anatomist, Luigi Ronaldo conducting experiments on the brains of birds. Later work in Electrophysiology led to greater improvements in the electroencephalogram (EEG), which was used to conclude that the human brain continues to function during sleep.
In addition, a breakthrough in Neurochemistry by French scientists Henri Pieron and Rene Legendre presented the possibility of chemically induced sleep. By using an agent called “hypnotoxin” derived from the blood of sleep-deprived dogs, Pieron and Legendre were able to bring about sleep in well-rested canines, paving the way for experimentation with chemical compounds on sleep.
Clinical Research Developed Newer and Safer Alternatives
During the early twentieth century, the most popular sleeping pills available for public consumption were barbiturates. Out of the 25,000 barbiturate compounds, 50 were marketed as prescription drugs. Although barbiturates proved to be a highly effective sleep aid, graduates of a clinical research program know that this class of drug also comes with very serious side effects. Barbiturates have been discovered to be highly addictive. In addition, they could sometimes lead to death in the case of an overdose.
Because of the dangers posed by this early medication, it was important for professionals with clinical research training to search for alternatives. It was necessary for scientists to develop safer sleeping pills, which in the 1960’s and 1970’s took the form of the less harmful benzodiazepines. Unlike their barbiturate predecessor, benzodiazepines like Valium have far fewer side effects, and pose a safer option.
The Future of Sleeping Pills and Clinical Research Training
While patients today have many different options to choose from, and while medications today are much safer than they were in the past, the push for new and better medications remains important.
According to recent figures, more and more Canadians have trouble falling asleep at night. In fact, among Canadians between the ages of 64 and 18, approximately 55 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men have difficulty sleeping. This has lead to an explosion in the need for sleeping aids, with as many as 5.6 million prescriptions for sleeping pills filled each year. This has concerned many health experts, who also note that emergency room visits and accidental overdoses have been on the rise. By searching for even safer and more effective options, professionals working in clinical research can make a world of difference in the quality of life and health of millions of people in Canada and all over the world.
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