Researchers have found a link between Alzheimer’s and the use of sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines and “Z-drugs.”
“Z-drugs” refer to non-benzodiazepines or hypnotics such as zolpidem (brand name Ambien).
The study from the University of Finland looked at 70,700 individuals who had developed Alzheimer’s during the years 2005-2011. The researchers found regular use of benzodiazepines and Z-drugs increased one’s risk of the neurodegenerative disorder by 6%. Moreover the higher the dose used, the higher the risk.
Benzodiazepines and sleeping pills are being prescribed and used in epidemic proportions leading to more addiction and tolerance to controlled substances, poor timing as we fight the opioid crisis.
Sleeping Pill Use “Worse than Smoking”
Arizona State University researchers last year reported the use of use of sleeping pills is “worse than smoking” for one’s health.
Sleep researcher, Shawn Youngstedt, told CNN, “They are as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Not to mention they cause infections, falling and dementia in the elderly, and they lose their effectiveness after a few weeks.”
For years sleeping aids including antihistamines (ex. diphenhydramine), benzodiazepines (ex. lorazepam, alprazolam), non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic (ex. Ambien) have been studied and linked to side effects including
- Sleep Walking
- Numbness, tingling
- Memory loss
- and more
In 2012, a study of 10,500 people found those who used sleeping pills were 4X as likely to die in the 2.5-year study than those who didn’t use medications for sleep.
Dr. Kripke and his colleagues at Scripps also found a 35% increase risk of cancer, noting lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancer risk was worse than that of smoking.
Also in 2012, a study published in Thorax, found benzodiazepine use linked to the severe lung infection, pneumonia.
In 2014, a study from China Medical University in Taiwan found only four sleeping pills a year increased risk of heart attack by 20% and 60 tablets a year was linked to a 50% increase.
A separate study found an increased risk of aortic dissection with sleeping pill use.
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia is a disorder where one has difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Many factors can cause insomnia. These include:
- Stress, anxiety, depression
- Thyroid disorder
- Chronic pain
- Neck and back arthritis
- Respiratory conditions (asthma, COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Urinary frequency
- Neurological conditions
- Sleep apnea
- and of course environmental issues such as noise, temperature, and kitty cats.
Treatments for insomnia
Treating insomnia can be complex. We begin by treating the underlying cause, such as any of those listed above. Then we can try the following:
- Lowering the room temperature to an average of 65 degrees F
- Shut off artificial lights 1-2 hours before going to bed
- Avoiding alcohol
- Dinner including foods rich in tryptophan (fish, nuts, tofu, turkey, eggs and seeds)
- Warm bath
- Cognitive and/or behavioral therapy
- Aromatherapy including lavender
- Blackout curtains to keep out light
- Daily exercise
- to name a few.
Youngstedt also suggests exercise. He states its “healthier” than using sleeping aids and “research suggests those who are physically active have a lower risk of developing insomnia in the first place.”
Now it could be that those who suffer from certain medical conditions are more at risk of insomnia but more needs to be studied in terms of why these medications are linked to poor health outcomes.