Study of the Day: Even Low Doses of Sleeping Pills Triple Death Risk

More

Common hypnotic drugs like Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta may significantly increase mortality and cancer risk, new research suggests.

main Henrik Winther Andersen shutterstock_21717391.jpg

PROBLEM: In 2010, nearly one in 10 adults in the U.S. took sleeping pills. But how safe are they?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center tracked the survival of 10,529 people who were prescribed sleeping pills for an average of 2.5 years. They compared these subjects, whose average age was 54, to 23,676 people who had not been prescribed sleeping pills over the same period. They also adjusted the data to account for age, gender, smoking, body mass index, ethnicity, marital status, alcohol use, and previously diagnosed cancer.

Some of the drugs tested in the trial were temazepam (Restoril), zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata).

RESULTS: Those prescribed fewer than 18 doses of sleeping pills a year were more than 3.5 times as likely to die as those in the control group. Moreover, the risk of death of moderate (18 to 132 doses) and heavy users (132+ doses) were four and five times greater than that of non-users, indicating that the risk level rose in tandem with increasing doses. Heavy users were also at higher risk of developing several types of cancer.

CONCLUSION: Sleeping pills are associated with a more than threefold increase in mortality risk, even if seldom used.

IMPLICATION: Alternatives to hypnotic drugs for the treatment of insomnia may be warranted, the authors say in a statement. Their journal editor, Trish Groves, agrees: "Although the authors have not been able to prove that sleeping pills cause premature death, their analyses ... raise important concerns and questions about the safety of sedatives and sleeping pills."

SOURCE: The full study, "Hypnotics' Association With Mortality or Cancer: A Matched Cohort Study," is published in the journal BMJ Open.

Image: Henrik Winther Andersen/Shutterstock.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Is Technology Shifting Our Moral Compass?

"The experience of taking another human life becomes much more trivial."


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In