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Suzanne Hegland

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I Wanna Be Sedated

Posted: 04/11/2012 3:15 pm

Last Friday, five months after receiving approval from the FDA, pharmacists finally began doling out the newest sleep aid to the groggy hordes.

Zopidem Tartrate will be sold under the brand name Intermezzo. Say what you will about big pharma, but they sure know how to name their drugs. Intermezzo -- sounds classy, doesn't it? Can't you just picture a lovely string quartet playing a gentle, soothing lullaby?

Certainly, these geniuses have had some practice marketing soporifics to the general public. Who can forget the Ambien rooster? Viewers across the country sympathized with the hapless insomniac, scrunching up her pillow and staring saucer-eyed into the deep gray of night when her quest for sleep was interrupted by that scary rooster. His squawk was nearly as bad as his creepy chicken head and his even creepier chicken feet, high stepping across her blankets. That poor woman needed a sleeping pill and a BB gun.

Ambien's rival, Lunesta, took a softer, quieter course, relying on the gentle glow of a digitized luna moth floating over the furrowed brows of the sleep-deprived.

According to Advertising Age, the newest contender will feature a plucky little light bulb. While the ad won't run until next October, a portion provided to Ad Age shows their logo with his (her?) bulb off, then suddenly awake and glowing, then magically back to the sleep. Intermezzo is planning on spending a reported $100 million outlay on marketing, which will reportedly be handled by Purdue Pharma (which also markets Oxycontin).

Intermezzo's creators claim it will provide relief to those who generally have no problem falling asleep, but are unable to fall back to sleep if they awake during the night. Unlike traditional prescription sleep aids, Intermezzo is a "sublingual tablet," meaning instead of swallowing a pill, you put it under your tongue, where it dissolves and can more rapidly enter your system. The speed is important, because Intermezzo is the first and only prescription sleep aid that can be taken in the middle of the night without fear of engaging in unconscious behaviors (such as eating, having sex and driving) which have been reported by Ambien and Lunesta users. According to Intermezzo's website, as long as you have four hours left to sleep, you're good to go.

This is big news, because Americans now spend over $750 million annually on over-the-counter sleep aids, and over $2 billion annually on prescription sleeping pills. This is a 23 percent increase since 2006 and a 60 percent increase since 2000.

Medical experts and sociologists wonder if widespread insomnia has become a "cultural benchmark," the most obvious symptom of an exhausted, anxious society.

I've been thinking a lot about this since hearing that Michael Jackson suffered from insomnia so chronic that his doctor had to resort to Propofol, a surgical drug normally administered in a hospital setting under the watchful eye of an anesthesiologist. The doc might as well have hit poor Michael over the head with the proverbial hammer. But Michael was no victim -- he asked for it. Michael had many, many problems, but in the end it may very well have been his insomnia that killed him.

I can understand this, because there are nights when I'd gladly pop a few Propofol if I could buy it at CVS. String together enough sleepless nights and common sense gives way to delusions -- not of grandeur, but of sleep, sweet, sweet sleep.

I'm not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly half of Americans report occasional insomnia, and more than 20 percent say they suffer from insomnia nearly every night.

And don't try to tell us die-hard insomniacs about alternative treatments. Long hot bath? Tried it. Melatonin, chamomile, lavender? Check. Adhering to so-called "good sleep hygiene" like no napping during the day, no caffeine after noon and no TV in the bedroom? Been there, done that. Still not sleeping.

Whether it's an inability to muzzle that voice in our head relentlessly broadcasting our to-do list, or simply a cultural by-product of an overworked society, millions of us are eager to hear from the light bulb.

The dictionary tells us an intermezzo is a short movement in a longer musical work, similar to an interlude. Both words are synonymous with the word "break" -- as in the cry heard 'round the world from tortured insomniacs: "Give me a break!"

For more by Suzanne Hegland, click here.

For more on sleep, click here.

CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to reflect that Intermezzo will spend $100 million on the initial advertising blitz.