A new study has found that a number of popular prescription sleeping pills may increase the risk for unexpected death by contributing to the occurrence of cancer, heart disease, and other ailments. This increased risk of death was found even among patients who took sleeping pills infrequently. Potentially dangerous sleeping pills identified by the study include Restori, Ambien, Intermezzo, Lunesta, Sonata, barbiturates, and sedative antihistamines.
What’s the problem?
February 28, 2012 - The new study, which was published in yesterday’s edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) , found that people who took 18 sleeping pills or less per year had a nearly four times greater risk of death than individuals who took no such medications for sleep. Additionally, the research found that people taking more than 132 sleeping pills per year were at a five times higher risk of death and 35% increased risk for cancer.
"We are not certain. But it looks like sleeping pills could be as risky as smoking cigarettes," said study author Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
The study analyzed more than 10,500 patients who took prescription sleeping pills for an average of 2.5 years between 2002 and 2007. The researchers compared survival rates among these patients with that of 23,500 people from the general population who did not take sleeping pills.
Prescription sleeping pills identified by the study include:
- benzodiazepines (Restori)
- non-benzodiazepines (Ambien, Intermezzo, Lunesta, and Sonata)
- sedative antihistamines
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The increased risk of death associated with sleeping pills was found across all age groups, but was greatest among 18-to-55-year-olds. These risks were identified after ruling out other factors that may contribute to death.
"What our study shows is that sleeping pills are hazardous to your health and might cause death by contributing to the occurrence of cancer, heart disease and other ailments," said Kripke in a written hospital statement.
Kripke goes on to point out that the research only identifies a link, and does not conclusively prove that sleeping pills cause cancer, heart disease or death. Still, the study’s conclusions should be enough for physicians to consider alternative methods of treatment for insomnia. Kripke said that when insomnia is caused by depression, doctors should attempt to get at the root of the problem rather just prescribing sleeping pills.