We aimed to investigate the effects of placebo on the first-night effect (FNE) in insomniacs.
In sum, 36 patients with insomnia disorder who met the DSM-5 criteria were enrolled in this study. Sixteen patients with insomnia disorder were given two days of placebo intervention (placebo-administration group, PL). Twenty patients with insomnia disorder (drug-free group, DF) were not given any interventions. All participants underwent two consecutive nights of polysomnographic (PSG) testing in the sleep laboratory. Sleep diaries were recorded during one week at home before the PSG nights and on two subsequent nights.
The results demonstrated that compared with the DF group, sleep onset latency (SOL), time in bed (TIB) and wake after sleep onset (WASO) significantly increased and sleep efficiency (SE) significantly decreased in the first sleep lab night in the PL group (all p < 0.05). Moreover, compared with the second night, significant differences were observed in lower self-reported total sleep time (TST) and more subjective WASO during the first night in the PL group (all p < 0.05). However, no significant difference was found in the duration and percentage of N1, N2, N3 and REM between the two groups.
In patients with insomnia disorder, placebo administration may increase the occurrence of worse sleep without causing a change in the duration and percentage of N1, N2, N3 and REM on the first sleep lab night. In some cases, a placebo may not serve as treatment but may result in a nocebo effect.

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