Are you a good sleeper? Or, do you have a hard time falling asleep when it’s time to turn in? Or maybe your problem is staying asleep through the night? Perhaps you have turned to sleep aids in the past… there are many over-the-counter options to choose from and almost just as many prescription choices. They’re appealing, sure. I mean, who wouldn’t want to look as rested as the people in those Lunesta commercials on television?

Well, if you DO rely on sleep aids such as these, you might want to change your approach. In fact, a recent study which found a link between sleeping pills and an increased rate of death from cancer and other diseases has some avid users wondering if it’s worth it.

Details of the Study

This long-term study was conducted by researchers at Scripps Health in San Diego and recently published online at BMJ Open. The subjects included 10,531 regular sleeping pill users over the age of 18 who were prescribed the pills for an average of two and a half years, as well as 23,674 control patients who had not been prescribed sleeping pills. The information was gathered via outpatient clinic visits between 2002 and 2006.

The study found that sleeping pill users have a 4.6 times greater risk of death and that new cancer rates are a whopping 35 percent higher for those who were prescribed 132 doses of hypnotics per year. These results were consistent through all of the age groups included in the study.

The research is the first to show that some of the most commonly prescribed hypnotic drugs are related to an increased risk of death and cancer. These include two of the newer sleeping pills, zolpidem and temazepam (sold as Ambien and Restoril respectively), which, up until now, were thought to be safer than the older drugs because of their shorter duration of action.

The Purpose of the Study

The results are meant to encourage doctors to make recommendations for achieving better sleep without the use of sleeping pills. That may not be easy, however, with Big Pharma’s tendency to influence doctors with certain incentives (aka: money). Hypnotic drugs are currently a $2 billion industry, even though several safer options exist for those looking for help with getting more sleep or better quality sleep.

Health Center places a focus on cognitive therapy that helps to teach patients to understand sleep and how it works for each of us. This type of therapy also promotes how individuals can benefit from practicing better sleeping habits and relaxation techniques as opposed to turning to medication for improved sleep. They also suggest that when it comes to depression or stress-related sleep disturbances, doctors should treat the psychological disorder that is causing the troubled sleep or insomnia as rather than being so quick to reach for the prescription pad.

One other recommendation that the Center promotes for better sleep is the circadian rhythm method, which basically uses your body’s “internal clock” and is based on the rising and setting of the sun.

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