The Curbsiders podcast

#12 Don’t be afraid of the dark? Dominate insomnia.

August 29, 2016 | By

Are you afraid of the dark? Do complaints of insomnia stress you out? Well, never fear. In this episode our guest is Dr. Karl Doghramji, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Medicine and the Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. With his help we deconstruct the “dread pirate” insomnia (as I call it) so you can dominate it in your daily practice.

Dr. Doghramji reports recent relationships with Merck (stock) and consulting work for Merck, Xenoport, Jazz, Inspire, Teva and Pfizer. He has a current research grant from Inspire.

Clinical Pearls:

*Pathophysiology: Likely biological, neurobehavioral and psychological hyperarousal. Possible genetic component.

*Depression, anxiety or PTSD may be their primary disorder. Many insomniacs unaware of their depression. Need a high index of suspicion.

*Sleep apnea is probably cause in 10-20% of patients who present with insomnia.

*GERD can present with insomnia and night time awakenings as its primary symptom.

*CBT works as well as pharmacotherapy and has lasting potential even 1-2 years after discontinuation of therapy.

*High yield nonpharmacologic therapy: Get up at the same time every morning. Don’t sleep in, even if bedtime or sleep onset was delayed.

*Melatonin: It’s effect depends on time administered (see below). It’s not as safe as you think (insulin resistance, low sperm count)

1. Administer very low dose (under 3 mg) four to five hours prior to bed for delayed sleep phase (usually occurs in teens).

2. Administer higher dose (3-5 mg) one hour before bed for sleep initiation (adults with fragmented sleep).

*Agents for sleep initiation: zaleplon, zolpidem, ramelteon

*Agents for sleep maintenance: zolpidem ER, eszopiclone, doxepin (low dose of 3mg or 6mg), gabapentin (off label)

*Suvorexant (orexin antagonist) treats both sleep initiation and maintenance: Start 10 mg and go up 5 mg every few weeks to max 20 mg daily. Orexins are deficient in narcolepsy. Orexins seem to mediate a switch system between arousal and sleepiness.

*Doxepin, gabapentin and ramelteon have very lose risk for abuse. 

*Off-label use of diphenhydramine for sleep is not recommended (“dirty drug”). Trazodone and mirtazapine also have uncertain benefit.

*Mirtazapine 7.5 mg is the dose for insomnia (more sedating). Lower dose favors histamine receptor.

Links from the Show:

1. This is one possible site for online CBT as referenced in this study

2. Melatonin associated with impaired glucose tolerance

3. American Academy of Sleep Medicine

4. This site below has easy to understand information on sleep related disorders and links to videos explaining sleep hygiene. You can also download sleep logs, get info. Website

5. Review on use of mindfulness and meditation for insomnia.


  1. October 29, 2016, 5:01pm Jeff writes:

    If you're a military provider, many MTFs have a wellness center with sleep hygiene programs. In San Antonio patients can self-refer by calling 210-539-1254 for the army wellness center to participate in sleep education, stress management, and biofeedback. Another great episode, loved it. Highly imformative.

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