(Health Secrets Newsletter) A certain type of sleeping pill known as a hypnotic may be associated with thousands of avoidable deaths each year according to new research. Even people who are prescribed fewer than 18 sleeping pills per year are tripling their risk of dying, and people who take higher does are also dramatically increasing their risk of developing cancer.
Prescriptions of hypnotic sleeping pills are very common. This type of medication includes zolpidem, temazepam, eszopiclone, zaleplon, triazolam, flurazepam, barbiturates and antihistamines, which researchers at Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center and the Jackson Hole Center for Preventive Medicine, have proven are all associated with an increased risk of death.
What Did the Study Show?
The U.S. based study looked at a group of 10,529 people over the age of 18 who had been prescribed hypnotic sleeping pills at least once by their doctor. Each member of the group was matched by gender, age and smoking history to two other people who had never been prescribed sleeping pills, forming a comparison group of 23,676 people. The two groups were followed for two and a half years, and their electronic medical records were checked to see whether they died or developed cancer.
The results of the study were alarming to say the least. Over a 2.5 year period, in the group that had taken hypnotics, there were 638 deaths, which equaled 6.1% of the group. In the control group, where nobody had taken hypnotics, there were only 295 deaths, which equaled just 1.2% of the group. The more hypnotic pills a patient had been prescribed, the higher their risk of dying within the study period, for example:
- Those prescribed up to 18 hypnotic pills a year were 3.6 times more likely to die than members of the control group
- Those prescribed 18 to 132 hypnotic pills per year were 4.5 times more likely to die than members of the control group
- Those prescribed more than 132 hypnotic pills per year were 5.3 times more likely to die than members of the control group
Patients in the high use group, who had been prescribed more than 132 hypnotic pills in a year, were also found to be at a higher risk of developing cancer. The study results showed that heavy hypnotic use had a greater association with lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancers than smoking.
The researchers are quick to point out that this study can’t actually prove that hypnotic sleeping pills cause death or cancer, and that there may be underlying factors that cause people to take sleeping tablets which may also increase their risk of dying or developing cancer. A controlled trial to conclusively prove that hypnotic sleeping pills cause death would now never be ethically feasible as the link has already been made. The study does highlight a worrying trend though, and shows very clearly that these sleeping pills should be avoided wherever possible.
Natural Sleep Aids
Insomnia and sleeping problems can have a catastrophic impact on our lives and it can be very tempting to pop a pill to get the rest we need. Rather than taking risky hypnotic sleeping pills, however, there are a variety of natural methods you can try in order to get a good night’s sleep.
- A 100% natural supplement can be as effective as a sleeping pill without the side effects or the health risk. Sleep-Aid is a great example which contains the herb valerian root, jujube seed and passion flower herbal extracts, and the amino acid l-theanine.
- Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day will help you naturally establish a sleeping pattern. Try a relaxing bedtime routine such as bath and a cup of hot milk, or listen to a relaxation CD.
- Clearing your bedroom of distractions such as computers, telephones, or televisions can help you keep the room just for sleeping. Make sure the temperature is constant and your bed is comfortable.
- Taking regular exercise can help with sleeping problems. Exercise in the morning if you have problems falling asleep, and exercise later in the day if you wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep.
- Reducing your intake of caffeinated drinks such as coffee, black tea, and soda can have a big impact on sleeping problems. Look for caffeine free alternatives such as herbal tea instead.
- Writing down anything that’s worrying you and anything you have to do the next day before you go to bed can stop you lying awake and worrying into the early hours. It can help to empty your brain of everyday stresses.
Sleeping pills such as hypnotics only treat the symptoms of insomnia and not the cause. If all of the above fail to improve your sleeping patterns, it may be worth looking at Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or another form of non medicinal therapy to break the underlying habits that are causing your insomnia.