A recent study has shown that people who use sleeping pills the most have up to 5 times the death risk compared to people who never take sleeping pills. This group also had a 35% higher risk of developing cancer.
Occasional sleeping pill users who took as few as 18 pills during a year were also shown to have a 3.6 higher death risk than non users.
Sleeping pills such as Ambien, Restoril, Sonanta and Lunesta are of the hypnotic type of medication that knocks you out rather than aids you in getting a natural sleep like taking melatonin.
According to Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, “We are not certain. But it looks like sleeping pills could be as risky as smoking cigarettes. It looks much more dangerous to take these pills than to treat insomnia another way.”
“We think these sleeping pills are very dangerous. We think they cause death. We think they cause cancers,” Kripke says. “It is possible but not proven that reducing the use of these pills would lower the U.S. death rate.”
The side effects of taking sleeping pills are also a good reason not to take them. They can cause heart problems, impaired judgement, drowsiness and even depression. Misusing sleeping pills can kill you faster than Charlie Sheen’s new sit-com.
According to Dr. Lee Green, a professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan, the risks outweigh the benefits.
“Sedation worsens sleep apnea, for example, and we know sleep apnea is associated with risk of death,” said Green. “We tend to think that a sleeping pill once in a while is harmless, but there’s no such thing as a medication free of risk.”
People with sleep apnea who also took sleeping pills suffered from longer, more frequent pauses in their breathing during the night.
“Obese patients appear particularly vulnerable, perhaps through interaction with sleep apnea,” said study co-author Daniel Kripke, M.D., a psychiatrist with Scripps Clinic’s Viterbi Family Sleep Center in San Diego.
Since hypnotic sleeping pills are habit forming and dangerous, they are not the most effective way to treat insomnia.
Sleep difficulties are often a symptom of an underlying physical or emotional condition and medicating with sleeping pills doesn’t address these concerns.