SCIENCE

This Sleeping Pill Commercial Is Absolutely Terrifying

Side effects may include... well, just watch the video, if you dare.

The advertising masterminds behind a commercial for the new sleeping pill Belsomra have put their heads together to sell you on the life-changing merits of their new drug. 

What did they come up with? Word-pets. Fuzzy word-pets.

In a commercial for the new, first-of-its-kind insomnia treatment, an attractive woman's sleep "cat" is being disturbed by her wake "dog." The woman cuddles with the sleep cat, until she loses it (insomnia -- get it?). She goes on to search for the cat under her bed and throughout the house until she finds it in the attic, where the poor thing is being backed into a corner by the wake dog. 

Meanwhile, the voiceover explains that Belsomra lulls the sleep cat back into the bed by decreasing levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter associated with wakefulness (aka chasing away the "wake" dog). 

Fuzzy creatures aside, the most memorable part is when a soothing female voice cuts in and starts listing off the side effects. The ad makers are hoping you won't notice this dark turn, since the terrifying effects they describe are recited over a backdrop of soothing music. 

It's a list that's scary enough to keep anyone up at night. In case you missed it in the video above (at the 0:42 mark):

Do not take Belsomra if you have narcolepsy. When taking Belsomra do not drive or operate heavy machinery until you are fully awake. Walking, eating, driving or engaging in other activities while asleep, without remembering it the next day, have been reported. Belsomra should not be taken together with alcohol. Abnormal behaviors may include aggressiveness, confusion, agitation or hallucinations. The temporary inability to move while falling asleep or waking up, and temporary leg weakness, have also been reported. In depressed patients, worsening of depression including risk of suicide may occur. Alcohol may increase these risks. Side effects include next-day drowsiness.

The ad caught the attention of many on Twitter:

Somehow, despite the risk of temporary paralysis and suicide, the ad seems to be working. Sales have been so high that Belsomra is predicted to be the highest-selling insomnia treatment within less than a decade. And yet, as some experts have pointed out, clinical trials have shown it to be not only less effective than existing drugs but also potentially more dangerous, carrying a high risk for excessive next-day drowsiness. 

This is just what the drug's manufacturer, Merck, was gunning for. Sleeping pill sales have taken a dive recently, leaving pharmaceutical companies grasping for ways to revive the flagging insomnia market. 

Along with the TV spot, Merck's ambitious advertising campaign includes print ads, online content (whyamisoawake.com), a Twitter page and hashtag, and an app called Sleep Guru. Let's just hope phase two of the marketing campaign doesn't involve selling "sleep cat" stuffed animals at Toys R Us.

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