As many as 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping, and not getting enough sleep can affect a person’s overall health. However, before deciding to ask your doctor for a sleeping pill prescription, keep in mind that a sleep aid can shorten your lifespan.
A Scripps Health study, published on BMJ Open in 2012, concluded that taking sleeping pills like Ambien was directly linked to early death. The researchers said that 500,000 deaths in 2010 were premature and linked to use of sleep aids. The researchers compared 10,000 patients using prescription sleeping aids from 2002-2006 with 23,500 patients who did not. During those years 6% of those using sleeping pills died compared to just one percent of those not using the medications.
The researchers used an algorithm which factored out things like race, age, substance use and body mass index as potential causes of early death. They also took into account certain chronic illnesses and compared death rates among populations with conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Once again, these populations showed an increased risk of early death when sleeping pills were being used.
Small doses of sleeping pills still make a negative impact
In fact, the Scripps study concluded that taking just one to two pills per month or less than 18 pills per year was enough to result in a three times greater risk of early death. This translates into a 450% higher rate of early death for those using sleep inducing medications.
Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to health, but it seems like using prescription sleep aids may actually kill you. The Scripps team was clear in stating that they did not have sufficient information on causes of death to determine just how using a sleeping aid may have contributed to those deaths.
Sleep aids: The most prescribed medication
It is estimated by the National Sleep Foundation that 25% of Americans use some type of sleep aid. Around four percent of those over age 20 take a sleeping pill each month. Today sleeping pills are the number one prescribed medication in America.
Women tend to use sleeping aids more than men and older adults (over age 80; 7%) use them more than younger ones (ages 20 to 39; 2%). Among teenagers, the number using a prescription sleep aid has tripled since 1998. Research also shows that a person with more education is slightly more apt to use a sleeping pill compared to a person with less education.
Are sleeping pills worth the risk?
Today, around 9 million Americans are using these medications but, given the risks, prescription sleep aids simply do not seem to be worth it. Using a sleeping pill can leave you feeling groggy in the morning, make it more likely that you will fall and accidentally injure yourself and have even been linked to some forms of cancer. All of this pales in comparison to the enormous risk that a precious life will be cut short in search of better sleep.