Benzodiazepines and related drugs for insomnia in palliative care


Benzodiazepines and related drugs for insomnia in palliative care


Hirst A; Sloan R


Cochrane Database Of Systematic Reviews




Humans; Palliative Care; Benzodiazepines/therapeutic use; Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders/drug therapy


BACKGROUND: Insomnia, a subjective complaint of poor sleep and associated impairment in daytime function, is a common problem. Currently, benzodiazepines are the most used pharmacological treatment for this complaint. They are considered helpful for occasional short-term use up to four weeks but longer term use is not advised due to potential problems regarding tolerance, dosing escalation, psychological addiction and physical dependence. There is no consensus on their utility in patients with progressive incurable conditions who may require assistance with sleep for many weeks as their condition deteriorates. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness and safety of benzodiazepines or benzodiazepine receptor agonists such as Zolpidem, Zopiclone and Zaleplon for insomnia in palliative care. SEARCH STRATEGY: Several electronic databases were searched including Cochrane PaPaS Group specialized register, Cochrane Library Issue 4, 2001, MEDLINE, EMBASE, BNI plus, CINAHL, BIOLOGICAL ABSTRACTS, PSYCINFO, CANCERLIT, HEALTHSTAR, WEB OF SCIENCE, SIGLE, Dissertation Abstracts, ZETOC and the MetaRegister of ongoing trials. These were searched from 1960 to 2001 or as much of this range as possible. Additional articles were sought by handsearching reference lists in standard textbooks and reviews in the field and by contacting academic centres in palliative care and pharmaceutical companies. There were no language restrictions. SELECTION CRITERIA: Studies considered for inclusion were randomized controlled trials of adult patients in any setting, receiving palliative care or suffering an incurable progressive medical condition. (For example, cancers, AIDS, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). There had to be an explicit complaint of insomnia in study participants, diagnosed by any of the three main classification systems (DSM-IV (APA 1994), ICSD (AASD 1990) or ICD (WHO 1992)), or as described in the study if it involved a subjective complaint of poor sleep. Studies had to compare a benzodiazepine or Zolpidem or Zopiclone or Zaleplon with placebo or active control for the treatment of insomnia. Any duration of therapy were considered. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Abstracts were independently inspected by both reviewers, full papers were obtained where necessary. Where there was uncertainty advice was sought by a third (PW). Data extraction and quality assessments were undertaken independently by both reviewers. MAIN RESULTS: No randomized controlled trials were identified meeting the a priori inclusion criteria. Thirty-seven studies were considered but all were excluded from the review. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Despite a comprehensive search no evidence from randomized controlled trials was identified. It was not possible to draw any conclusions regarding the use of benzodiazepines in palliative care.


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Hirst A; Sloan R, “Benzodiazepines and related drugs for insomnia in palliative care,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed December 4, 2023,