ZALEPLON: Package Insert and Label Information

ZALEPLON — zaleplon capsule
Physicians Total Care, Inc.


Zaleplon is a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic from the pyrazolopyrimidine class. The chemical name of zaleplon is N-[3-(3-cyanopyrazolo[1,5-a]pyrimidin-7-yl)phenyl]-N-ethylacetamide. Its molecular formula is C17 H15 N5 O, and its molecular weight is 305.34. The structural formula is shown below.

Chemical Structure

Zaleplon is a white to light pale yellow, crystalline powder that is practically insoluble in water and sparingly soluble in alcohol or propylene glycol. Its partition coefficient in octanol/water is constant (log PC = 1.23) over the pH range of 1 to 7.


Pharmacodynamics and Mechanism of Action

While zaleplon is a hypnotic agent with a chemical structure unrelated to benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or other drugs with known hypnotic properties, it interacts with the gamma-aminobutyric acid-benzodiazepine (GABA-BZ) receptor complex. Subunit modulation of the GABA-BZ receptor chloride channel macromolecular complex is hypothesized to be responsible for some of the pharmacological properties of benzodiazepines, which include sedative, anxiolytic, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsive effects in animal models.

A /chloride ion channel receptor complex and potentiates t-butyl-bicyclophosphorothionate (TBPS) binding. Studies of binding of zaleplon to recombinant GABAA receptors (α1 β1 γ2 [omega-1] and α2 β1 γ2 [omega-2]) have shown that zaleplon has a low affinity for these receptors, with preferential binding to the omega-1 receptor.


The pharmacokinetics of zaleplon have been investigated in more than 500 healthy subjects (young and elderly), nursing mothers, and patients with hepatic disease or renal disease. In healthy subjects, the pharmacokinetic profile has been examined after single doses of up to 60 mg and once-daily administration at 15 mg and 30 mg for 10 days. Zaleplon was rapidly absorbed with a time to peak concentration (tmax ) of approximately 1 hour and a terminal-phase elimination half-life (t1/2 ) of approximately 1 hour. Zaleplon does not accumulate with once-daily administration and its pharmacokinetics are dose proportional in the therapeutic range.


Zaleplon is rapidly and almost completely absorbed following oral administration. Peak plasma concentrations are attained within approximately 1 hour after oral administration. Although zaleplon is well absorbed, its absolute bioavailability is approximately 30% because it undergoes significant presystemic metabolism.


Zaleplon is a lipophilic compound with a volume of distribution of approximately 1.4 L/kg following intravenous (IV) administration, indicating substantial distribution into extravascular tissues. The in vitro plasma protein binding is approximately 60% ± 15% and is independent of zaleplon concentration over the range of 10 ng/mL to 1000 ng/mL. This suggests that zaleplon disposition should not be sensitive to alterations in protein binding. The blood to plasma ratio for zaleplon is approximately 1, indicating that zaleplon is uniformly distributed throughout the blood with no extensive distribution into red blood cells.


After oral administration, zaleplon is extensively metabolized, with less than 1% of the dose excreted unchanged in urine. Zaleplon is primarily metabolized by aldehyde oxidase to form 5-oxo-zaleplon. Zaleplon is metabolized to a lesser extent by cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A4 to form desethylzaleplon, which is quickly converted, presumably by aldehyde oxidase, to 5-oxo-desethylzaleplon. These oxidative metabolites are then converted to glucuronides and eliminated in urine. All of zaleplon’s metabolites are pharmacologically inactive.


After either oral or IV administration, zaleplon is rapidly eliminated with a mean t½ of approximately 1 hour. The oral-dose plasma clearance of zaleplon is about 3 L/h/kg and the IV zaleplon plasma clearance is approximately 1 L/h/kg. Assuming normal hepatic blood flow and negligible renal clearance of zaleplon, the estimated hepatic extraction ratio of zaleplon is approximately 0.7, indicating that zaleplon is subject to high first-pass metabolism.

Effect of Food

In healthy adults a high-fat/heavy meal prolonged the absorption of zaleplon compared to the fasted state, delaying tmax by approximately 2 hours and reducing Cmax by approximately 35%. Zaleplon AUC and elimination half-life were not significantly affected. These results suggest that the effects of zaleplon on sleep onset may be reduced if it is taken with or immediately after a high-fat/heavy meal.

Special Populations


The pharmacokinetics of zaleplon have been investigated in three studies with elderly men and women ranging in age from 65 to 85 years. The pharmacokinetics of zaleplon in elderly subjects, including those over 75 years of age, are not significantly different from those in young healthy subjects.


There is no significant difference in the pharmacokinetics of zaleplon in men and women.


The pharmacokinetics of zaleplon have been studied in Japanese subjects as representative of Asian populations. For this group, Cmax and AUC were increased 37% and 64%, respectively. This finding can likely be attributed to differences in body weight, or alternatively, may represent differences in enzyme activities resulting from differences in diet, environment, or other factors. The effects of race on pharmacokinetic characteristics in other ethnic groups have not been well characterized.

Hepatic impairment

Zaleplon is metabolized primarily by the liver and undergoes significant presystemic metabolism. Consequently, the oral clearance of zaleplon was reduced by 70% and 87% in compensated and decompensated cirrhotic patients, respectively, leading to marked increases in mean Cmax and AUC (up to 4-fold and 7-fold in compensated and decompensated patients, respectively), in comparison with healthy subjects. The dose of zaleplon should therefore be reduced in patients with mild to moderate hepatic impairment (see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION). Zaleplon is not recommended for use in patients with severe hepatic impairment.

Renal impairment

Drug-Drug Interactions

Because zaleplon is primarily metabolized by aldehyde oxidase, and to a lesser extent by CYP3A4, inhibitors of these enzymes might be expected to decrease zaleplon’s clearance and inducers of these enzymes might be expected to increase its clearance. Zaleplon has been shown to have minimal effects on the kinetics of warfarin (both R- and S- forms), imipramine, ethanol, ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, thioridazine, and digoxin. However, the effects of zaleplon on inhibition of enzymes involved in the metabolism of other drugs have not been studied. (See Drug Interactions under PRECAUTIONS.)

Clinical Trials

Controlled Trials Supporting Effectiveness

Zaleplon (typically administered in doses of 5 mg, 10 mg, or 20 mg) has been studied in patients with chronic insomnia (n = 3,435) in 12 placebo- and active-drug-controlled trials. Three of the trials were in elderly patients (n = 1,019). It has also been studied in transient insomnia (n = 264). Because of its very short half­-life, studies focused on decreasing sleep latency, with less attention to duration of sleep and number of awakenings, for which consistent differences from placebo were not demonstrated. Studies were also carried out to examine the time course of effects on memory and psychomotor function, and to examine withdrawal phenomena.

Transient Insomnia

Normal adults experiencing transient insomnia during the first night in a sleep laboratory were evaluated in a double-blind, parallel-group trial comparing the effects of two doses of zaleplon (5 mg and 10 mg) with placebo. Zaleplon 10 mg, but not 5 mg, was superior to placebo in decreasing latency to persistent sleep (LPS), a polysomnographic measure of time to onset of sleep.

Chronic Insomnia

Non-elderly patients

Adult outpatients with chronic insomnia were evaluated in three double-blind, parallel-group outpatient studies, one of 2 weeks duration and two of 4 weeks duration, that compared the effects of zaleplon at doses of 5 mg (in two studies), 10 mg, and 20 mg with placebo on a subjective measure of time to sleep onset (TSO). Zaleplon 10 mg and 20 mg were consistently superior to placebo for TSO, generally for the full duration of all three studies. Although both doses were effective, the effect was greater and more consistent for the 20 mg dose. The 5 mg dose was less consistently effective than were the 10 mg and 20 mg doses. Sleep latency with zaleplon 10 mg and 20 mg was on the order of 10 to 20 minutes (15% to 30%) less than with placebo in these studies.

Adult outpatients with chronic insomnia were evaluated in six double-blind, parallel-group sleep laboratory studies that varied in duration from a single night up to 35 nights. Overall, these studies demonstrated a superiority of zaleplon 10 mg and 20 mg over placebo in reducing LPS on the first 2 nights of treatment. At later time points in 5-, 14-, and 28-night studies, a reduction in LPS from baseline was observed for all treatment groups, including the placebo group, and thus, a significant difference between zaleplon and placebo was not seen beyond 2 nights. In a 35-night study, zaleplon 10 mg was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing LPS at the primary efficacy endpoint on nights 29 and 30.

Elderly patients

Elderly outpatients with chronic insomnia were evaluated in two 2-week, double-blind, parallel-group outpatient studies that compared the effects of zaleplon 5 mg and 10 mg with placebo on a subjective measure of time to sleep onset (TSO). Zaleplon at both doses was superior to placebo on TSO, generally for the full duration of both studies, with an effect size generally similar to that seen in younger persons. The 10 mg dose tended to have a greater effect in reducing TSO.

Elderly outpatients with chronic insomnia were also evaluated in a 2-night sleep laboratory study involving doses of 5 mg and 10 mg. Both 5 mg and 10 mg doses of zaleplon were superior to placebo in reducing latency to persistent sleep (LPS).

Studies Pertinent to Safety Concerns for Sedative/Hypnotic Drugs

Memory Impairment

Studies involving the exposure of normal subjects to single fixed doses of zaleplon (10 mg or 20 mg) with structured assessments of short-term memory at fixed times after dosing (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 10 hours) generally revealed the expected impairment of short-term memory at 1 hour, the time of peak exposure to zaleplon, for both doses, with a tendency for the effect to be greater after 20 mg. Consistent with the rapid clearance of zaleplon, memory impairment was no longer present as early as 2 hours post dosing in one study, and in none of the studies after 3 to 4 hours. Nevertheless, spontaneous reporting of adverse events in larger premarketing clinical trials revealed a difference between zaleplon and placebo in the risk of next-day amnesia (3% vs 1%), and an apparent dose-dependency for this event (see ADVERSE REACTIONS).

Sedative/Psychomotor Effects

Studies involving the exposure of normal subjects to single fixed doses of zaleplon (10 mg or 20 mg) with structured assessments of sedation and psychomotor function (e.g., reaction time and subjective ratings of alertness) at fixed times after dosing (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 10 hours) generally revealed the expected sedation and impairment of psychomotor function at 1 hour, the time of peak exposure to zaleplon, for both doses. Consistent with the rapid clearance of zaleplon, impairment of psychomotor function was no longer present as early as 2 hours post dosing in one study, and in none of the studies after 3 to 4 hours. Spontaneous reporting of adverse events in larger premarketing clinical trials did not suggest a difference between zaleplon and placebo in the risk of next-day somnolence (see ADVERSE REACTIONS).

Withdrawal-Emergent Anxiety and Insomnia

During nightly use for an extended period, pharmacodynamic tolerance or adaptation to some effects of hypnotics may develop. If the drug has a short elimination half-life, it is possible that a relative deficiency of the drug or its active metabolites (i.e., in relationship to the receptor site) may occur at some point in the interval between each night’s use. This sequence of events is believed to be responsible for two clinical findings reported to occur after several weeks of nightly use of other rapidly eliminated hypnotics: increased wakefulness during the last quarter of the night and the appearance of increased signs of daytime anxiety.

Zaleplon has a short half-life and no active metabolites. At the primary efficacy endpoint (nights 29 and 30) in a 35-night sleep laboratory study, polysomnographic recordings showed that wakefulness was not significantly longer with zaleplon than with placebo during the last quarter of the night. No increase in the signs of daytime anxiety was observed in clinical trials with zaleplon. In two sleep laboratory studies involving 14- and 28-nightly doses of zaleplon (5 mg and 10 mg in one study and 10 mg and 20 mg in the second) and structured assessments of daytime anxiety, no increases in daytime anxiety were detected. Similarly, in a pooled analysis (all the parallel-group, placebo-controlled studies) of spontaneously reported daytime anxiety, no difference was observed between zaleplon and placebo.

Rebound insomnia, defined as a dose-dependent temporary worsening in sleep parameters (latency, total sleep time, and number of awakenings) compared to baseline following discontinuation of treatment, is observed with short- and intermediate-acting hypnotics. Rebound insomnia following discontinuation of zaleplon relative to baseline was examined at both nights 1 and 2 following discontinuation in three sleep laboratory studies (14, 28, and 35 nights) and five outpatient studies utilizing patient diaries (14 and 28 nights). Overall, the data suggest that rebound insomnia may be dose dependent. At 20 mg, there appeared to be both objective (polysomnographic) and subjective (diary) evidence of rebound insomnia on the first night after discontinuation of treatment with zaleplon. At 5 mg and 10 mg, there was no objective and minimal subjective evidence of rebound insomnia on the first night after discontinuation of treatment with zaleplon. At all doses, the rebound effect appeared to resolve by the second night following withdrawal. In the 35-­night study, there was a worsening in sleep on the first night off for both the 10 mg and 20 mg groups compared to placebo, but not to baseline. This discontinuation-emergent effect was mild, had the characteristics of the return of the symptoms of chronic insomnia, and appeared to resolve by the second night after zaleplon discontinuation.

Other Withdrawal-Emergent Phenomena


Zaleplon capsules are indicated for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Zaleplon capsules have been shown to decrease the time to sleep onset for up to 30 days in controlled clinical studies (see Clinical Trials under CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY). They have not been shown to increase total sleep time or decrease the number of awakenings.


Hypersensitivity to zaleplon capsules or any excipients in the formulation (see also PRECAUTIONS).


Because sleep disturbances may be the presenting manifestation of a physical and/or psychiatric disorder, symptomatic treatment of insomnia should be initiated only after a careful evaluation of the patient. The failure of insomnia to remit after 7 to 10 days of treatment may indicate the presence of a primary psychiatric and/or medical illness that should be evaluated. Worsening of insomnia or the emergence of new thinking or behavior abnormalities may be the consequence of an unrecognized psychiatric or physical disorder. Such findings have emerged during the course of treatment with sedative/hypnotic drugs, including zaleplon. Because some of the important adverse effects of zaleplon appear to be dose-related, it is important to use the lowest possible effective dose, especially in the elderly (see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION).

Abnormal Thinking and Behavioral Changes

Complex behaviors such as “sleep-driving” (i.e., driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic, with amnesia for the event) have been reported. These events can occur in sedative-hypnotic-naive as well as in sedative-hypnotic-experienced persons. Although behaviors such as sleep-driving may occur with zaleplon alone at therapeutic doses, the use of alcohol and other CNS depressants with zaleplon appears to increase the risk of such behaviors, as does the use of zaleplon at doses exceeding the maximum recommended dose. Due to the risk to the patient and the community, discontinuation of zaleplon should be strongly considered for patients who report a “sleep-driving” episode. Other complex behaviors (e.g., preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex) have been reported in patients who are not fully awake after taking a sedative-hypnotic. As with sleep-driving, patients usually do not remember these events. Amnesia and other neuropsychiatric symptoms may occur unpredictably. In primarily depressed patients, worsening of depression, including suicidal thoughts and actions (including completed suicides), has been reported in association with the use of sedative/hypnotics.

It can rarely be determined with certainty whether a particular instance of the abnormal behaviors listed above is drug induced, spontaneous in origin, or a result of an underlying psychiatric or physical disorder. Nonetheless, the emergence of any new behavioral sign or symptom of concern requires careful and immediate evaluation.

Following rapid dose decrease or abrupt discontinuation of the use of sedative/hypnotics, there have been reports of signs and symptoms similar to those associated with withdrawal from other CNS-depressant drugs (see DRUG ABUSE AND DEPENDENCE).

Because of the rapid onset of action, zaleplon should only be ingested immediately prior to going to bed or after the patient has gone to bed and has experienced difficulty falling asleep. Patients receiving zaleplon should be cautioned against engaging in hazardous occupations requiring complete mental alertness or motor coordination (e.g., operating machinery or driving a motor vehicle) after ingesting the drug, including potential impairment of the performance of such activities that may occur the day following ingestion of zaleplon. Zaleplon, as well as other hypnotics, may produce additive CNS-depressant effects when coadministered with other psychotropic medications, anticonvulsants, antihistamines, narcotic analgesics, anesthetics, ethanol, and other drugs that themselves produce CNS depression. Zaleplon should not be taken with alcohol. Dosage adjustment may be necessary when zaleplon is administered with other CNS-depressant agents because of the potentially additive effects.
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