Sleeping Pills Linked to Increased Mortality

Author: Jennifer Hammond
Published: March 02, 2012 at 11:08 am
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Ah, sleep, blessed slumber. For many, a good night's sleep is just a dream. While trying to juggle the demands of work, family and relationships, it is no surprise that many Americans find it difficult to "turn off their brains" at night and get a decent night's sleep. 

Many people, desperate for a good night's sleep, turn to their family physicians for help. In many cases, what is offered is a prescription for a sleeping pill. It is estimated that in 2010, 6-10% of Americans used a sleeping pill (hypnotic) to assist them with their sleep difficulties. 

As a pharmacist, I can attest to the prevalence of sleeping pill use in the general population. People tend to minimize these drugs, saying "it's just a little sleeping pill", in the mistaken belief that these types of drugs are harmless. If one reads the product monographs for drugs such as Ambien, Restoril and Lunesta, there are often various warnings, advising patients not to take these types of medications for periods of greater than 2 consecutive weeks. Ongoing use of these types of medication produces a situation in the body where it becomes physically dependent on the hypnotic to induce sleep, and the person's own mechanism for regulating sleep cycles becomes inefficient. However, in actual practice, few people heed these warnings, and many people take hypnotics for periods of months and years.

A study published in the February 27th edition of the British Medical Journal looked at patients over the course of five years, comparing those who used hypnotics with those who did not. The results were startling. Use of hypnotics was associated with a 3-5 times higher mortality risk compared to matched controls. This association held true for older, longer-acting hypnotics and newer shorter-acting (thought to be safer) hypnotics. Even when controlling for such factors as poor health, the excess risk of mortality still was present. 

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Article Author: Jennifer Hammond

I am a full-time health professional, part-time blogger and freelance writer. Located in Canada, but interests are global. Interests include health, media, technology, sports, consumer behavior, science and media to name a few.

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