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Sleeping Pills Taken For Insomnia May Help People Recover From Stroke

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A sleeping pill showed promised in helping stroke patients recover more quickly, according to a new Stanford University study.

Zolpidem, more popularly known as sleep aid Ambien, was shown for the first time to enhance recovery from stroke, particularly in increasing the rate at which lab mice recovered their pre-stroke sensory ability as well as motor coordination.

About 800,000 Americans suffer from stroke each year, making it the biggest culprit behind neurological disability and costing $74 billion in costs and lost productivity.

Senior study authors Dr. Gary Steinberg and Dr. Tonya Bliss, publishing their findings in the Dec. 18 issue of the journal Brain, credited the sleep drug’s effectiveness to its ability to enhance a certain nerve cell signaling enhanced by the drug in low doses.

“We've identified an FDA-approved drug that decisively promotes the beneficial signaling,” said Dr. Steinberg, also a neurosurgery professor at Stanford, in a press release.

The team administered low doses of Zolpidem three days after the mice’s induced stroke. The mice appeared to recover faster than control mice after the treatment, which took around a month to fully bounce back from their stroke-induced impairment.

The treated mice, for instance, removed a test sticky patch from their paw more quickly than their non-treated counterparts.

The Stanford team aims to test the drug further in other animal models and experiment with varying sizing and timing of doses. Hopefully, clinical trials will commence from there.

Ambien, however, is hounded by controversy in its use as an anti-insomnia agent in the U.S. since 1993.

In 2010, nearly 20,000 emergency room visits were reported as a result of adverse reactions to the drug. Some Ambien users also reported texting, eating, or having sex in the night with no memory of the event the following morning.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lowered recommended Ambien doses after tests showed that it made users too drowsy for driving in the morning.

The drug, however, has also been shown to help wake some from a minimally conscious state, allegedly bringing people to a state of movement, response, and communication for an hour or two after drug intake.

“We have not made much progress in elucidating the mechanism, primarily because of practical obstacles,” said John Whyte of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute in Pennsylvania, pointing out the lack of trial participants.

Whyte, who led the study that found four out of 84 minimally conscious individuals responded to Ambien, said the underlying process here may be different from that in the stroke recovery study.

Photo: David Amsler | Flickr

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