Overview: This review of the literature evaluated hypnotic and melatonin/melatonin-receptor agonist treatment for patients with bipolar disorder (BD).
Conclusion: In patients with bipolar disorder, treatment with melatonin may be encouraging.
Background: Bipolar disorder (BD) is a chronic relapsing-remitting psychiatric disorder. Sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances persist during acute mood episodes of the disorder and during euthymia. However, the treatment potential of hypnotic agents that might be used to manage sleep disturbance in BD is not well understood. Similarly, melatonin and medications with a melatonin-receptor agonist mechanism of action may have chronotherapeutic potential for treating people with the disorder, but the impact of these substances on sleep and circadian rhythms and core symptoms in BD is unclear.
Objective: Our aim was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the current evidence for hypnotic and melatonin/melatonin-receptor agonist pharmacotherapy for symptoms of sleep disturbance, mania, and depression in patients with BD.
Methods: AMED, Embase, MEDLINE and PsychINFO databases were searched for studies published in English from the date of inception to 31 October 2021. Studies included in this review were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and non-controlled/non-randomised studies for BD that examined hypnotic medications selected based on a common pattern of usage for treating insomnia (i.e. chloral, clomethiazole, diphenhydramine, doxepin, doxylamine, promethazine, suvorexant, zaleplon, zolpidem, zopiclone, and eszopiclone) and melatonin and the melatonin-receptor agonist drugs ramelteon and agomelatine. Risk of bias was assessed using the RoB2 and AXIS tools. Pooled effect sizes for RCT outcomes were estimated using random-effects models.
Results: A total of eleven studies (six RCTs and five experimental feasibility studies) involving 1279 participants were included. Each study examined melatonin or melatonin-receptor agonists. No studies of hypnotics were found that fulfilled the review inclusion criteria. Pilot feasibility studies suggested beneficial treatment effects for symptoms of sleep disturbance, depression, and mania. However, the pooled effect of the two available RCT studies assessing sleep quality via Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index scores was not statistically significant (g = - 0.04 [95% CI - 0.81 to 0.73]) and neither was the pooled effect for depressive symptoms (four studies; g = - 0.10 [95% CI - 0.27 to 0.08]). Some RCT evidence suggests ramelteon might prevent relapse into depression in BD. The largest efficacy signal detected was for manic symptoms (four studies; g = - 0.44 [95% CI - 1.03 to 0.14]) but there was substantial heterogeneity between studies and patient characteristics. In the two RCTs assessing manic symptoms during acute mania, adjunctive melatonin demonstrated superior treatment effects versus placebo.
Conclusions: There is a paucity of studies examining pharmacological interventions for sleep and circadian rhythm disturbance in BD. Few studies assessed sleep-related symptoms, and none quantitatively examined endogenous melatonin patterns or other circadian rhythms. Melatonin may be a promising candidate for the adjunctive treatment of bipolar mania. However, dose-finding studies and studies with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm its efficacy. We recommend parallel monitoring of sleep and circadian rhythms in future trials. Chronobiology-informed trial designs are needed to improve the quality of future studies. Protocol registration: PROSPERO (CRD42020167528).