A meta-analysis of sleep changes associated with placebo in hypnotic clinical trials

William Vaughn McCall, Ralph D'Agostino, Aaron Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Objectives: The effects associated with placebo (EAP) have been incompletely described in clinical trials of insomnia treatment. We conducted a meta-analysis of insomnia medication trials for the purpose of estimating the magnitude of sleep EAP. Method: We reviewed Medline for 1966 through 2000 for the meta-analysis. The subject heading of insomnia restricted to the subheading of drug therapy was crossed against the results of a search on the subjects heading placebo and text word placebo. We selected only papers that examined primary insomnia, incorporating both placebo and active medication therapies in a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group design. We required that results be reported for 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks of treatment, and that outcomes be reported in hours/minutes. Results: Five papers satisfied our requirements for eligibility, comprising 213 patients receiving placebo for a 2-week interval. Subjective sleep latency demonstrated a significant reduction (mean ± S.E.) of 13.1 ± 2.0 min (95% confidence interval (CI) 9.2, 17.0) for the placebo group after combining the data across studies. Subjective total sleep time demonstrated a significant increase of 13.5 ± 5.4 min (95% CI 2.9, 24.0). Polysomnographic (PSG) sleep latency demonstrated a non-significant reduction of 2.5 ± 4.3 min (95% CI -5.9, 10.9). Conclusions: The confirmation of EAP in insomnia clinical trials argues for the retention of a placebo control in future insomnia clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-62
Number of pages6
JournalSleep Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethics
  • Hypnotics
  • Meta-analysis
  • Placebo
  • Sleeping pills

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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