I’ve been warning you about their dangers for years now.
In fact, it was around this time three years ago that I told you about a Boise, Idaho man who was pulled over for suspected drunk driving. He had plowed through a bunch of mailboxes and sideswiped a number of parked cars before being stopped by the police.
It turns out that the Idaho man wasn’t drunk at all. He had taken an Ambien sleeping pill earlier in the evening and he was “sleep driving” with no memory of the last five hours.
As I explained back then, this really came as no surprise to me since even the prescribing information for the drug contains dire warnings like, for example, “Abnormal thinking, behavioral changes, complex behaviors: May include “sleep-driving” and hallucinations.”
(Oh, and if you’re wondering what the term “complex behaviors” might mean besides sleep driving, it’s activities like preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex. You know…the kinds of things you definitely don’t want to be doing while asleep.)
Then it was about two years ago that I warned you that sleeping pills could kill when I told you about the results of a study that had found that using sedatives to sleep could increase your mortality risk by more than a third.
Now a new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, is setting off new alarm bells and they are much louder than before.
The study has revealed frightening links between prescription sleep drugs… like zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and temazepam (Restoril)…and cancer and early death. Users of any of these drugs were found to be more likely to develop cancer, and far more likely to die prematurely when compared to people not taking them.
And the bad news doesn’t stop there.
Death Risk Skyrockets for Even Occasional Users
According to the researchers from Scripps Health where the study was conducted, even if you’re a relatively light user of these drugs…just 18 sleeping pills in an entire year…your risk of dying may be three and half times greater that someone who never uses them.
Heavy users who are taking upwards of 132 pills a year were found to be a staggering five times more likely to die than the non sleep aid users they were compared to.
The study followed 10,000 sleeping pill users and 23,500 non-users between 2002 and 2006. And before you ask, the answer is yes…the researchers did adjust for other factors like age, race, body mass, alcohol use, and secondary conditions like diabetes, obesity, asthma, and hypertension.
That last part about secondary conditions is a really important point. And its importance certainly wasn’t lost on the researchers. In fact, Robert Langer, one of the authors of the study, reportedly told US News “We thought maybe sleeping pills are being prescribed for sicker people, so we tried to take that out of the mix in several different ways. The risk was the same whichever way we looked at it. To me, that was the most startling finding.”
So, in other words, after all the number crunching–and even after trying to pin the increased death rate it on factors like obesity and diabetes–sleeping pill users still came out on the short end of the stick with higher death rates.
But wait…there really IS more…
If Early Death Doesn’t Kill You Cancer Might
After digesting that bombshell I bet you forgot that I said that sleeping pill users also may have an increased risk of cancer.
Don’t worry if you did because you’re in good company. This finding has been overshadowed by the “three and half to five times more likely to die” announcement. And for a good reason since, according to Langer, that’s a mind-blowing 450 percent increase in mortality rate!
But the cancer link is still nothing to sneeze at. The Scripps researchers found that the most frequent sleeping pill users had a 35 percent higher risk of developing a major cancer during the study.
Now keep in mind, as I always remind you with a study like this, these findings do not prove that sleeping pills cause cancer or that they will kill you. What researchers found was a link between the pills and cancer and early death.
But it sure is one huge monster of a whopping link. Heck, it’s practically screaming, “Look at me!”
And look we should.
With millions of American’s on these drugs if cause and effect were ever to be established we could be talking about sleeping pills being responsible for the untimely death of literally hundreds of thousands of people every year. As it is, those deaths are now already associated with the pills.
One thing’s very clear at this point and that is that the risks associated with sleeping pills far outweigh the potential benefits. There are other ways to get a good night’s sleep, and they sure don’t come with a 450 percent increased risk of dying.
If you struggle with sleep problems I recommend you begin by eliminating stimulants. The obvious ones are coffee, tea, and soda. But you should also avoid certain supplements before bed like ginseng, B12, and milk thistle.
If you’re under 40 try l-tryptophan and if you’re over 40 you can give melatonin a try, but proceed cautiously since it’s a hormone. And try taking 500 mg of magnesium before bed, which can help ease anxiety naturally.
Dr. Allan Spreen
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