Prescription sleeping pills linked to cancer and death

By Shayna Brouker • Published: June 28th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There’s little that’s more frustrating than tossing and turning in bed and not being able to fall asleep.

Sleep experts say insomnia may be due to several factors, including age, stress or depression … and it’s become commonplace for sufferers to turn to medication to get a good night’s sleep. But current research shows those prescriptions may be far more dangerous than the losing sleep itself.

In a study recently published in the journal BMJ, researchers followed more than 10,500 adults who had underlying health issues and had been taking sleeping pills for an average of two-and-a-half years. The scientists compared them to people who did not take sleeping pills, looking specifically at risks for death and cancer. Other factors were also taken into account, such as gender, ethnicity, marital status, smoking, alcohol use, as well as other health conditions that might affect the results.

In the final analysis, the investigators found a dramatic correlation. Even among people who only took prescription pills 18 times in one year, the death rate was three-point-six times higher than it was in people who who did not rely on sleep aids. That rate jumped to four times higher for those who took between 18 and 132 doses per year. And for people who took more than 132 doses a year, the death rate was five times higher.

The risk of developing several types of cancer was also elevated for those taking the highest doses of prescription sleep medicine.

The researchers acknowledged they are not certain if the increased risk has more to do with the pills or the reasons people take them. Those underlying health conditions could be playing a role. Regardless, patients should consult a health-care professional before taking sleep medications or losing any sleep over the study’s results.