Sleeping pills as dangerous as smoking

New evidence could change the way we treat sleep disorders as concerns about the use of medicines come to light

A new study has suggested that commonly prescribed sleeping pills could increase the risk of mortality by up to 5.7 times, raising questions about the widespread use of drugs to alleviate insomnia.

Research published in the British Medical Journal Open estimates that between 320,000 and 507,000 deaths in the United States could be linked to hypnotics, otherwise known as sleeping pills.

‘Although the authors have not been able to prove that sleeping pills cause premature death, their analyses have ruled out a wide range of other possible causative factors,’ says Dr Trish Groves, editor of BMJ Open.

Dr Daniel Kripke of Scripps Clinic in San Diego suggests a move towards cognitive-behavioural therapy as a treatment for chronic insomnia may be more successful than hypnotics.

Certain drugs that are regularly prescribed, including Temazepam, Diazepam, Zopiclone and Zolpidem, were included in the study causing concern for the 33 per cent of Britons thought to suffer from insomnia.

But Nina Barnett from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society stresses: ‘Patients should not stop taking prescribed medicines straight away.

‘If you are concerned about your medicines discuss this with your pharmacist or doctor about other ways of getting help with sleep problems so you don’t have to use medicines.’

The NHS advises that Zolpidem and Temazepam should only be used at the lowest possible dose for a maximum of four weeks. Zaleplon should only be used for up to two weeks.

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