Papers And Originals

Sleep and Barbiturates: some Experiments and Observations

Br Med J 1968; 4 doi: (Published 02 November 1968) Cite this as: Br Med J 1968;4:291
  1. J. I. Evans,
  2. S. A. Lewis,
  3. I. A. M. Gibb,
  4. Mary Cheetham


    To determine the effect of barbiturates on sleep two subjects, after a control period, received 200 mg. of sodium amylobarbitone for 26 nights. All night sleep records taken during this period showed that the barbiturate shortened the delay to sleep, increased the total sleep period, lengthened the delay to rapid eye movement (R.E.M.) sleep, and depressed R.E.M. sleep. After five nights R.E.M. sleep returned to baseline values —that is, showed tolerance. On stopping the drug withdrawal phenomena were seen, even to this small dose of the drug.

    In a second experiment a subject dependent on 600 mg. of Tuinal was found to have low normal R.E.M. sleep while on drugs. On withdrawal, delay to sleep increased and total sleep time fell. R.E.M. sleep was doubled and the delay to R.E.M. became abnormally short.

    These findings suggest that hypnotics allow sleep to be “borrowed,” and that patients should be supported while they are being withdrawn.


    • * From the sleep Laboratory, University Department of Psychiatry, (Royal Edinburgh Hospital), Edinburgh 10.