Sleeping Tablets – Worth The Risk?

If you take Temazepam, Zalepon (Sonata) or Zolpidem listen up!

A recent study shows that the 6-10% of Americans who use these drugs to help them sleep are more likely to develop cancer and are far more likely to die prematurely than those who do not. 

The other major issue that was highlighted was the fact that the increased risk came at very low doses of these drugs.  Deaths were found to be more than 3 1/2 times greater for those taking as few as 1 – 18 sleeping pills a year than people not taking any.

The study showed that the risk of death was 5 times greater in those who were taking more than 132 sleeping pills per year again in comparison to those who do not take any.

More studies need to be conducted because at present we do not know if it is the drugs themselves causing the greater risk of death and cancer or if it’s a case that people who are more likely to develop these things anyway are more likely to seek help to deal with their sleep issues and therefore end up taking these drugs.

The study, released in the BMJ Open compared patients who had never taken sleeping pills to patients who were heavy users  and found that they were 34% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer during the study period.  Quite a worrying number.

The study followed 10,531 patients who were taking prescriptions for hypnotic sedatives for at least 3 months and for as long as 4 years.  For comparison researchers matched each patients prescribed with a sleeping pill with at least two patients of similar age, gender and health and had no history of having ever taken a sleeping pill.

Zolpidem was the most commonly used sleeping pill used by the participants, followed by Restoril.  Others included Lunesta, Sonata, benzodiazepines and sedative anti-histamines.  These were used by 4117 of the study participants.

Millions of American are routinely prescribed these medications.  The authors of the study estimate that between 320,000 – 507,000 deaths in 2010 alone in the US may have been attributed to the use of sleeping pills.  This is scary stuff considering that many of the people who take these drugs say that they have little effect on them obtaining a good night’s sleep!  Sleeping pills are the 20th most used class of prescription drugs.

Sanofi-Aventis the makers of “Ambien” said the study’s conclusions were “highly questionable”.  The authors agreed that the cause and effect had not been established but more and more studies are coming out with similar conclusions that these drugs are dangerous and are of little benefit.

The authors say that there could be many contributing factors as to why these sleeping pills cause problems.  Aside from overdose they often cause problems such as a hangover type feeling the next day which may cause increased susceptibilty to accidents and injuries.  Peptic ulcers are more common in those who take sleeping pills which could drive up the rate of cancer and infections.  Other studies have linked sleeping pills with depression, sleep apnoea, which in turn may lead to a raised risk of suicide, diabetes and heart disease. As for how they could cause cancer, no-one really knows – yet.

In summary it’s clear that we should not be taking these medications except in extreme circumstances.  Better sleep hygiene and counselling really would be much better in the long run.  It may also get to the root cause of ones sleeplessness.

We are told often that we all need a good 8 hours sleep a night but older people tend to survive perfectly well on less and yet still insist on taking these pills.  We are all individuals and different and should be treated thus.  The “one size fits all” mentality of the health service is not helpful when it comes to complex issues such as sleep or ones mental health state.  Popping a pill simply doesn’t treat the issue itself.