1 March 2012
More data has emerged showing commonly prescribed sleeping pills such as temazepam or zolpidem increase the risk of death, prompting researchers to question whether even short-term use is “sufficiently safe”.
Even sleeping pill users with the lowest intake in the US study – less than 18 doses per year – still had 3.6 times the risk of death of people not taking them, researchers found.
The added risk may come from impairment of motor and cognitive skills and “hang-over sedation” resulting in more motor vehicle crashes and falls, the authors said.
In the study, researchers tracked more than 10,500 sleeping pill users over an average of 2.5 years, and compared the number of deaths from all causes in that group to that of 23,600 matched controls who were not prescribed sleeping pills.
People who took sleeping pills had a more than four times increased risk of dying overall, but the researchers also noted a dose-response relationship.
“. . . those taking the most doses (more than 132 per year) were more than 5 times as likely to die as those not prescribed sleeping pills, indicating that the level of risk rose in tandem with increasing doses,” the authors said.
The drugs, known to doctors as "hypnotics", could also increase sleep apnoea-related problems of high blood pressure, heart failure, and heart disease and cause night-eating disorders leading to poor diet and obesity, they said.
People taking the highest number of doses were also at greater risk of developing several types of cancer, and were also 35 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with any type of cancer.
Sleeping pill users were more likely to be in poorer health than non-users though this was accounted for and could not explain “the bulk of the hazard associated with the use of hypnotic medications”.
Out of 24 earlier studies examining hypnotic use and mortality, 18 had showed the drugs could significantly increase a user’s risk of death, the researchers said.
“A consensus is developing that cognitive-behavioural therapy of chronic insomnia may be more successful than hypnotics,” the authors concluded.
Last Reviewed: 27 February 2012