Major heads up for anyone using sleep medication: 3 to 5 x’s the risk of dying according to a recent study. Gasp, even in very small amounts. As small a prescription as half to 18 pills over one year tripled the mortality rate. And regular users also have a 35% increased cancer risk.
Clearly more research needs to be done, but there is enough alarming information here for anyone using these drugs to find other means to get some badly needed sleep.
This class of drug is actually called a “hypnotic sleep aid” and it’s not even clear it helps you actually rest. One effect seems to be you forget you were awake during the night!
In 2010 as many as half a million people in the US alone may have died using this kind of medication.
Remember, no drug study is perfect. Working with people is very different than working in a lab. Still, there’s enough information here to, ahem, wake up. Insomnia is a curse that eats at sanity, there is no doubt. What is becoming clear is that non-drug approaches, which require life style changes and discipline are suddenly much more attractive than these so-called sleep aids.
Here’s a co-author of the study:
“Rough order-of-magnitude estimates…suggest that in 2010, hypnotics may have been associated with 320,000 to 507,000 excess deaths in the U.S. alone.
…The consistency of our estimates across a spectrum of health and disease suggests that the mortality effect of hypnotics was substantial.”
Daniel F. Kripke, MD. Scripps Clinic. La Jolla, CA
This serious effort to understand the issue followed 10,531 adult patients who had at least one prescription for a hypnotic drug from January 2002 to September 2006 compared to 23,674 patients who did not have a prescription for a hypnotic sleep aid and tracked them for 2.5 years.
Zolpidem (Ambien, Stilnox) was the most widely used hypnotic (4,338), followed by temazepam (Restoril and Normison ) (2,076). Eszopiclone, a newer drug (Lunesta and Lunestar) showed even worse results.
Overall, 5 times as many people using these drugs died during the study compared with the control group not using the medications.
The report said: ”The meager benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks. A consensus is developing that cognitive behavioral therapy of chronic insomnia may be more successful than hypnotics.
Against meager benefits, it is prudent to weigh the evidence of mortality risks from the current study and 24 previous reports, in order to reconsider whether even short-term use of hypnotics, as given qualified approval in National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance, is sufficiently safe.”
Here’s the reference for you for this grim news:
Kripke DF, et al “Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: A matched cohort study” BMJ Open 2012; 2: e000850.