Wednesday, February 24, 2016


SLEEPING PILLS: Pills for Blissful Sleep or Early Deaths?

Sleeping pills (sedatives and hypnotics) are commonly used (and abused) by the general population. About 6-10% of adults use prescription sleeping pills. The usage of sleeping pills is higher among women and overweight people. Usage also increases with increasing age and in those with pain or depressive illness.
Insomnia (an inability to get normal sleep) is cited as the commonest reason to use sleeping pills. A normal adult requires 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleeping pills help increase the number of sleeping hours providing bliss to people with insomnia. But is this bliss coming at a cost? Are there any health hazards associated with sleeping pill usage? The current article is aimed at finding out the risks and hazards of sleeping pill usage.

Do sleeping pills lead to more deaths?

Several studies have shown that use of sleeping pills is associated with higher death rates. In a large study published in British medical Journal in 2012, more than 10,000 people who used sleeping pills were compared to about 24,000 people who did not use sleeping pills. They were followed up for 2.5 years. The hazard of death was three times more in people prescribed as little as 1-18 sleeping pill tablets per year. The hazard for death increased with higher number of prescriptions per year, and it was five times more for those using greater than 132 doses of sleeping pills per year. This increased risk of death was seen with older benzodiazepines (such as alprazolam, lorazepam, diazepam) as well as newer agents (such as zolpidem and eszopiclone). The comparison was done after accounting for smoking, obesity and other risk factors that could contribute to more deaths.
In another study from UK, about 35,000 patients who were prescribed sleeping pills were compared to about 70,000 people who were not prescribed sleeping pills (control group). They were followed up for a mean duration of 7.6 years and death rates were compared between the two groups. In the first year, twice as many deaths occurred in the “sleeping pills” group as compared to the “control” group. After excluding deaths in the first year, there were approximately four excess deaths linked to drug use per 100 people followed for an average of 7.6 years after their first prescription.

Sleeping pills and cancer

In a large study, the risk of cancer increased by 35% in people who were prescribed sleeping pills, as compared to those without sleeping pills. This puts “use of sleeping pills” as risky as “smoking cigarettes” said, study leader Daniel F. Kripke.

Sleeping pills adversely affect work output

Sleeping pills cause drowsiness and hang over and affect the performance in work the next day too. Concentration is impaired and memory loss may be seen.

Sleeping pills and falls

Sleeping pill use is linked to falls in elderly, which is an important cause of fractures in them.

Sleeping pills increase the risk of road traffic accidents

Use of sleeping pills lead to increased road traffic accidents. This is because it hampers the attention and concentration ability.

Above hazards prove that sleeping pills are unhealthy and dangerous. Long-term use of sleeping pills has never been studied in people and should be discouraged. If sleeping pills are used at all, it should be for a short period of a few days and with extreme caution.

Dr Sudhir Kumar MD DM
Consultant Neurologist
Apollo Health City, Hyderabad
Ph: 0091-40-23607777/60601066

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