Study Shows Sleeping Pills Linked to Cancer, Higher Risk of Death

Study Shows Sleeping Pills Linked to Cancer, Higher Risk of DeathPrescription sleeping pills are becoming a more common choice for those who have trouble getting a good night's slight, but routine use of them could also raise the risk of death or developing certain forms of cancer, HealthDay reports.

A new study, published in the medical journal BMJ Open, suggests those who use the medications could be four times more likely to die than people who don't take them to fall asleep at night. Moreover, the study found taking sleeping pills are also linked to a higher risk for certain cancers. Pills linked to such risks include benzodiazepines like temazepam, non-benzodiazepines such as Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Sonata (zaleplon), barbiturates, and sedative antihistamines.

"Popular sleeping pills are associated with a shocking excess of deaths and a horrible increase in new cancers," said Dr. Daniel Kripke, of the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center, in La Jolla, California.

The study could sound alarms for many Americans, as between one in 20 and one in 10 adults took sleeping pills throughout the country in 2010.

The researchers analyzed more than 10,500 people with an average age of 54 who had been prescribed sleeping pills for an average of about 2.5 years. The adults, who had a range of underlying health conditions, were compared against those in the study who did not take any form of sleeping pills.

The results showed those who were prescribed up to 18 doses a year were 3.6 times more likely to die than their counterparts in the study who received no doses, while those who were given between 18 and 132 doses were more than four times as likely to die. When the doses were upped to more than 132 doses per year, the likelihood of death grew to more than five times that of those not taking the medication.

"For the particular sleeping pills studied, I do not see any time I would prescribe them," Kripke concluded.

Dr. Bryan Bruno, acting chairman of the department of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed with the study's findings, stating that "chronic use should be avoided if possible," and that "[sleeping pills] are not benign or without risk."

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are many recommended ways to sleep better without the use of sleeping pills, such as maintaining a regular schedule and creating a sleep-conducive environment.