Even with the use of FDA-approved pharmacotherapies for smoking cessation, most smokers relapse within the first few days following a quit attempt. Thus, there is a need to identify novel approaches to optimize treatment to help more smokers maintain abstinence during this critical period. Evidence indicates that sleep disturbance during nicotine withdrawal may be an important, yet overlooked smoking cessation treatment target. This is particularly important since existing treatments do not mitigate withdrawal-related sleep disturbance. Critically, difficulty sleeping is predictive of smoking relapse. In this proof-of-concept study, we hypothesize that the FDA-approved melatonin receptor agonist, ramelteon, in combination with transdermal nicotine replacement therapy (TN), will promote smoking cessation by attenuating sleep disturbance during nicotine withdrawal. Using a well-validated medication screening paradigm, we propose a within-subject, placebo-controlled crossover design with one within-subjects factor of short-term medication (ramelteon vs. placebo). Fifty treatment-seeking smokers will complete this 6-week study, which consists of two 2-week phases separated by a 2-week washout. Each phase includes 1 week of ad libitum smoking (baseline) and 1 week of medication (8mg ramelteon or placebo) plus TN while trying to abstain (quit assessment). Smokers will be provided small monetary incentives for biochemically-confirmed abstinence. Ramelteon's unique properties reduce the likelihood of next-day residual effects, rebound insomnia, and symptoms of physical dependence which render other sleep medications problematic. We have chosen TN because it will be important to address physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms (e.g., headaches, constipation) and it is the most widely used treatment in the U.S. For the duration of the study, subjects will be asked to keep sleep diaries and wear an armband while sleeping which provides objective indices of sleep duration and quality (SensewearPro). All subjects will receive standard TN following completion of the study. The primary outcome will be the total number of days abstinent (out of five), confirmed by carbon monoxide breath sample. This measure is highly predictive of longer-term quit success. Intermediate outcomes will include sleep onset latency (self-report) and sleep efficiency (SensewearPro armband). This innovative line of research will be the first to repurpose a melatonin receptor agonist (ramelteon) to evaluate its effects on withdrawal-related sleep disturbance and short-term quitting success in treatment-seeking smokers. Repurposing medications that have been de-risked removes a key barrier to drug development (i.e., safety signals), increasing the likelihood that the drug will be brought to market. Critically, our study design permits exploration of putative mechanisms that underlie the treatment effect. If our hypotheses are supported, these data will lay the foundation for a larger Stage II clinical trial and to extend this adjunct pharmacological treatment to other treatments for smoking cessation.
There is a clear need to identify better treatments for nicotine dependence and evidence supports withdrawal- related sleep disturbance as a potential therapeutic target. This research will examine a novel medication aimed at reducing difficulty sleeping during abstinence. Findings from this research may have important implications for helping more smokers quit by increasing the number of available treatment options.