New research indicates that “dummy pills,” or placebos, could work better than doing nothing at all to treat insomnia.
Previous clinical trials have looked into the possibility of placebos working better than sleep medicine, but researchers believe that those studies may have been tainted because sometimes people simply feel better because they’re in a trial.
The new research, conducted at the University of Sydney in Australia, examined data from 13 previously published studies that assigned some insomnia patients to receive a placebo they were led to believe was an active treatment or to a control group that got no treatment.
The researchers found that those who received placebos reported more improvement in their ability to fall asleep, total amount of rest and sleep quality.
“The comparison with no treatment means that we can be sure that the improvement we observed was due to a genuine placebo effect, rather than being an artifact of simply taking part in a trial,” study author Dr. Ben Colagiuri told Reuters. “The study provides new evidence that genuine placebo effects exist for insomnia treatments.”
Experts say the research makes sense because insomnia is a disorder of perception. Someone who gets only four hours of sleep per night may not feel like they have insomnia, because they feel well rested. Someone who gets seven hours of sleep per night, however, may feel exhausted all day and think they have insomnia.