Is there anything that makes you feel worse than a sleepless night? Getting out of bed the next morning is truly depressing, knowing that your day is probably going to suck. It’s enough to get many of us reaching for sleeping pills at night so we can at least be assured some shut-eye. But, according to a new study, that pill-induced sleep comes at a pretty high risk–a 400% increased rate of death.
Published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, researchers discovered that people who take sleep medications are four times more likely to die than people who don’t take them.
In the new study, researchers tracked more than 10,500 people who had been taking sleeping pills for an average of 2.5 years. What they found was pretty alarming: Those who took as little as 18 doses a year were 3.6 times more likely to die than those who didn’t take any. Meanwhile, people who took between 18 and 132 doses were more than four times as likely to die, and taking more than 132 doses a year increased their risk of death 5 times.
Specifically, there were 265 deaths among 4,336 people taking Ambien, compared with 295 deaths among the 23,671 people who had not taken sedatives or sleeping pills. Other sleeping pills linked to these risks included Lunesta and Sonata, as well as barbiturates and sedative antihistamines.
As if that’s not bad enough, the study showed that using sleeping pills was also associated with an increased risk for certain cancers, including esophagus, lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancers. However, the risks of leukemia, breast cancer, uterine cancer, bladder cancer, leukemia and melanoma were not elevated.
And even though an estimated 50 to 70 million American suffer from insomnia, study author, Dr. Daniel Kripke, of California’s Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center warns us:
Popular sleeping pills are associated with a shocking excess of deaths and a horrible increase in new cancers.
Some wonder people counter all of this by claiming that those taking these sleeping pills may have already had other health risks like anxiety, depression and stressful jobs, but, Kripke doesn’t buy it. He says these medications can make sleep apnea worse, and they may make people more susceptible to falls and automobile crashes.
His advise? Don’t take them.
For the particular sleeping pills studied, I do not see any time I would prescribe them.
Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association sent a statement to the Today show stating that these drugs are FDA approved, and they are safe and effective.
Does this mean more people will stop taking these drugs? Time will tell. But hopefully this is a warning to our pill-popping society that just because a drug is FDA approved, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with certain risks.