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Sleeping Pills and Cancer

Sleeping Pills Linked to Higher Risk of Cancer and Death
by Mommy MD Guide Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

Moms need a good night’s sleep to make it through another busy day, but relying on sleeping pills isn’t the best strategy. The results of a new study* conducted by researchers at Scripps Health links the drugs to a 4.6 times greater risk of death and a significant increase in the number of cancer cases among regular sleeping pill users.

These days, more people than ever are relying on sleeping pills to send them off to dream land. From 2006 to 2010, this segment of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry expanded by nearly 25 percent and generated about $2 billion in annual sales.

The Scripps researchers found that sleeping pills are a health hazard and might cause death by contributing to the development of cancer, heart disease, and other serious health problems.

The results of the study found that eight of the most commonly used hypnotic drugs were associated with increased risks of death and cancer, including the popularly prescribed medications zolpidem (known by the brand name Ambien) and temazepam (also known as Restoril). These drugs were previously believed to be safer than older hypnotics because of their shorter duration of action.

The study looked at nearly 40,000 patients aged 18 years and older, and the researchers found an increased risk of death in all age groups. Even among subjects who were prescribed 1 to 18 sleeping pills per year, the risk of death was 3.6 times higher than among similar participants who did not take the medications. Rates of new cancers were 35 percent higher among patients who were prescribed at least 132 doses a year as compared with those who did not take the drugs.

With statistics like these, moms should consider using alternative therapies or strategies to help them get the sleep they need. Here are a few steps moms can take to get a good night’s rest—drug free.

  • Go to bed at the same time each night, and rise and shine at the same time each morning.
  • Spend 20 or 30 minutes winding down and relaxing before you hit the hay.
  • Sleep in a quiet, dark, relaxing room that’s not too hot or too cold.
  • Make your bed and your bedroom a comfortable place for sleeping. Don’t read, watch TV, or balance your checkbook while you’re in bed.
  • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible. That means no TV, computers, or phones.
  • It’s great to exercise, but if you want to fall asleep easily, it’s not a good idea to exercise right before bedtime.
  • Stop drinking caffeine-containing beverages several hours before bedtime. If you’re very sensitive to the effects of caffeine, stop drinking caffeine-containing beverages before noon.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime. That means no pizza or chocolate cake right before you put on your PJs.

*Kripke DF, Langer RD, Kline LE. Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJ Open, 2012;2:e000850

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.