Arizona State University researchers say taking sleeping pills is worse than smoking for one’s health.
Sleep researcher, Shawn Youngstedt, told CNN, “They are as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Not to mention they cause infections, falling and dementia in the elderly, and they lose their effectiveness after a few weeks.”
For years sleeping aids including antihistamines (ex. diphendyrdramine), benzodiazepines (ex. lorazepam, alprazolam), non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic (ex. Ambien) have been studied and linked to side effects including:
In 2012, a study of 10,500 people found those who used sleeping pills were 4X as likely to die in the 2.5-year study than those who didn’t use medications for sleep.
Dr. Kripke and his colleagues at Scripps also found a 35% increase risk of cancer, noting lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancer risk was worse than that of smoking.
Also in 2012, a study published in Thorax, found benzodiazepine use linked to the severe lung infection, pneumonia.
In 2014, a study from China Medical University in Taiwan found only four sleeping pills a year increased risk of heart attack by 20% and 60 tablets a year was linked to a 50% increase.
A separate study found an increased risk of aortic dissection with sleeping pill use.
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia is a disorder where one has difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Many factors can cause insomnia. These include:
Medications (stimulants, decongestants)
Stress, anxiety, depression
Neck and back arthritis
Respiratory conditions (asthma, COPD)
and of course environmental issues such as noise, temperature, and kitty cats.
Treatments for insomnia
Treating insomnia can be complex. We begin by treating the underlying cause, such as any of those listed above. Then we can try the following:
Lowering the room temperature to an average of 65 degrees F
Shut off artificial lights 1-2 hours before going to bed
Dinner including foods rich in tryptophan (fish, nuts, tofu, turkey, eggs and seeds)
Cognitive and/or behavioral therapy
Aromatherapy including lavender
Black out curtains to keep out light
to name a few.
Youngstedt also suggests exercise. He states its “healthier” than using sleeping aids and “research suggests those who are physically active have a lower risk of developing insomnia in the first place.”
Now it could be that those who suffer from certain medical conditions are more at risk of insomnia but more needs to be studied in terms of why these medications are linked to poor health outcomes.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician