Wake-Up Drug May Get Insomniacs Snoozing


A drug used to keep narcoleptics awake may also help insomniacs sleep better, Sydney researchers hope.

Scientists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research are investigating whether a popular wakefulness drug could be used to make an important insomnia treatment, sleep restriction therapy, more effective. The trial, a world-first, could hand Australia’s 1.5 million insomniacs a better, more appealing treatment plan to get them snoozing through the night.

“Sleep restriction therapy is one of the best treatments we have for people with insomnia but sadly the side effects – extreme daytime sleepiness – make it difficult for patients to stick to,” explains Study Doctor and Sleep Specialist Daniel Judge. “If we can show that using a wakefulness-promoting drug in the day improves side effects of sleep restriction therapy then the treatment will become far easier for patients to use.”

Studies estimate 13 to 33 per cent of the adult population have insomnia, defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.[1] Sedatives are the most common treatment but they should only be used short term and may not treat the underlying cause of the condition.

Delivered by a sleep psychologist, sleep restriction therapy (SRT) is a non-drug option in which time in bed is restricted each night. The partial sleep deprivation makes you more tired the next night, setting you up for a deeper sleep which is gradually lengthened as the therapy progresses.

“The concept of reducing sleep in order to increase it might seem absurd but studies show it’s actually just as effective as sleeping tablets at getting you sleeping better,” Dr Judge says. “The trouble is you feel so groggy and sleepy during the day that so many people drop out of treatment before they see the benefits.”

The Woolcock team is enlisting 30 people with insomnia to trial the therapy alongside the drug armodafinil, marketed as Nuvigil, which is approved in Australia to treat patients with excessive sleepiness associated with narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea or shift work disorder.

“If it works to keep these patients awake during the day then we’re hoping it will have the same alerting effect on people with insomnia, ultimately making it easier for them to recover from their condition,” Dr Judge says.

Volunteers will take the drug daily over four weeks alongside sleep restriction therapy. Sleep diaries and actiwatches will be used to monitor sleep and track progress.

It is not a placebo-controlled trial so all participants will receive the active drug. If results are positive, the Woolcock will run a much larger study before specialists could consider widespread use of armodafinil for insomnia, Dr Yee says.

If you are an insomnia patient seeking treatment, contact the study coordinator Parisa Hassan on (02) 9114 0469, email woolcock.moderate@sydney.edu.au, or visit https://woolcock.org.au/new-2/do-you-have-insomnia-2 to register your interest.

Woolcock Wins $2.2M Grant to Support Asthma Battlers

Australians living with poorly controlled asthma will get a boost from their local pharmacist thanks to a $2.2million grant that backs an innovative Woolcock initiative. 

The Federal Government has announced it will fund a new Pharmacy Asthma Service trial that targets patients most at risk of dangerous asthma flair-ups.

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research will establish the service in partnership with University of Sydney, Curtin University, University of Tasmania, National Asthma Council,  Asthma Australia, Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and The George Institute.

Woolcock Executive Director Professor Carol Armour says the service offers a unique opportunity to get asthma under control in the community. “We’ll be focused squarely on that at-risk group of patients that carry the highest burden of disease and are most likely to wind up in emergency departments with out-of control asthma symptoms,” Professor Armour says. “Under this new model, community pharmacists working at the coal face will be skilled up to identify these patients, find out why their asthma is poorly controlled and help them manage their condition.”

The pharmacists will support these at-risk patients with three private consultations over 12 months to make sure they don’t keep falling through the cracks. “Central to this support is ensuring they’re taking their medication regularly, using their inhaler correctly, and checking their hay fever to see if it could be exacerbating their asthma,” Professor Armour says. Those patients with complex issues or unknown causes will be referred to their GP.

If the trial proves successful the consortium hope to roll out the trial to more communities across Australia.

The grant, entitled Getting Asthma Under Control Using the Skills of the Community Pharmacist, will be funded to the tune of $2,199,100 over two years. It was announced by the Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt at the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Conference in Sydney on July 28.

Respiratory Physiology Education Day - July 2017

Photo by Tom Psomotragos

Photo by Tom Psomotragos

Covering the intermediate to advanced aspects of pulmonary physiology with a focus on airways disease, this education day will provide a basis by which attendees can further learn about complex physiology, in relation to airways disease. 

This comprehensive education day is primarily aimed at respiratory medicine trainees, physicians and respiratory scientists. However, the content may be of interest to all respiratory healthcare professionals.

Click here to view the program.

When: Saturday, 29 July 2017. 9am - 5pm

Location: Level 5, Woolcock Institute, 431 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037

Cost: $20 Catering provided. Places limited.

This educational activity is supported by an independent educational grant from GlaxoSmithKline Australia.