Sleeping pill users 'up to five times more likely to die early'
Researchers in the U.S. have found taking sleeping pills increases the risk of death by five times
Sleeping pills used by millions of Britons may increase the risk of early death more than five-fold, warn researchers.
The higher the dose, the greater the risk. Those on higher doses also have an increased risk of cancer.
But a study suggests even patients taking fewer than 18 pills a year are more likely to die prematurely than those not on medication.
The findings come from U.S. research, but most of the drugs involved are commonly prescribed in Britain.
include benzodiazepines such as temazepam and diazepam, newer sedative
hypnotics zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon, and barbiturates and
British experts said worried patients should not stop taking the pills but talk to their GPs first.
study found those prescribed sleeping pills were 4.6 times more likely
to die during a two-and-a-half-year period compared with those not on
Those taking the lowest doses – four to 18 pills a year – had a 3.6 times higher risk of dying compared with non-users.
But the study, conducted by researchers at the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine in Wyoming and the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California, found the risk was greater at higher doses.
Those taking 18 to 132 pills a year
had a 4.4 times higher risk of dying, while those on more than 132 pills
a year were 5.3 times more likely to die.
Those taking the highest doses each year accounted for 93 per cent of prescriptions in the study.
The study found non-drug treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy may be more successful than sleeping pills (file picture)
This group was also 35 per cent more likely to develop a major cancer. For the drug zolpidem, the risk of death was 5.7 times higher, and for temazepam 6.6 times higher.
The effects were greatest among 18 to 55-year-olds, although the reasons are not clear.
Just over 10,500 patients taking sleeping pills were compared with 23,500 not on the drugs, and the study took into account pre-existing illnesses.
The researchers concluded non-drug treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy may be more successful and NHS guidance backing 'even short-term use of hypnotics' should be reconsidered.
Writing in BMJ Open, they said: 'The meagre benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks.'
The journal's editor-in-chief Dr Trish Groves added: 'Although the authors have not been able to prove that sleeping pills cause premature death… these findings raise important concerns.'
Insomnia prescription figures show that in 2010 in England, 2.8million were given for temazepam and almost 5.3million for zopiclone. There were also more than 725,000 prescriptions for zolpidem and more than 9,400 for zaleplon.
Malcolm Lader, professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said patients should discuss any concerns they had with their GPs but 'should not under any circumstances stop taking their medication' suddenly.
He added: 'I agree these drugs do have problems, but I find some of these results difficult to accept.
'The main one is that with 18 doses a year you have three times the mortality – that's quite incredible, because you would have people dropping like flies.
'We need to hold judgment until we have further studies.'