Since homogeneous samples of insomniacs are difficult to recruit for pharmacotherapy studies, normal sleepers can be used to assess the protective effect of hypnotic drugs, under standardized nonconducive conditions. In particular, a noisy environment is a typical cause of situational insomnia that can be counteracted by a sedative-hypnotic agent. Six healthy middle-aged subjects (three men and three women), with no complaints about sleep, underwent a completely randomized double-blind series of 10 nocturnal polysomnograms with at least 72-h washout intervals. All subjects received a single dose of placebo, zolpidem 10 mg, zopiclone 7.5 mg, lorazepam 1 mg, and triazolam 0.25 mg both under basal and under perturbed conditions. For each individual, five recordings were carried out under basal conditions (sound pressure level not higher than 30 dB) and five recordings under acoustically perturbed conditions (continuous white noise at 55 dB). Sleep quality was assessed by means of a visual analogue scale (VAS). All recordings were scored according to conventional rules (macro-structure) and cyclic alternating pattern (CAP) methodology (microstructure). Statistical analysis was based on a repeated measures analysis-of-variance design integrated by Bonferroni adjusted probabilities. Under placebo, situational insomnia was confirmed by the significant increase in sleep fragmentation (intrasleep wakefulness) and by the significant enhancement of arousal instability (CAP parameters). In contrast to macrostructural information, CAP parameters were highly sensitive in detecting the perturbing effects of noise (mean CAP rate under placebo, 57\%) and the protective action of hypnotic drugs during perturbation (mean CAP rate under active medication, 41\%). Microstructural analysis enabled us to discriminate hypnotic drugs from placebo, nonbenzodiazepine compounds from benzodiazepine agents, and zopiclone from zolpidem. The latter, in fact, induced the lowest values of CAP rate both under basal (30\%) and under noisy (39\%) conditions and determined a significant decrease in electroencephalogram arousals. All CAP parameters were significantly correlated with the visual-analogue-scale scores for sleep quality. The use of CAP methodology in a highly standardized model of situational insomnia can be a valid alternative to conventional sleep scoring for the investigation of drug effects on disturbed sleep.
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