Die Early with Sleeping Pills

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sleepingpillA new study shows prescription sleeping pills bring an increased risk of dying early—or getting cancer. So why is FDA rubber-stamping such dangerous drugs?

Sleep deprivation is a serious issue. As many as 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders. Some 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills—technically called hypnotic drugs—were filled in 2011 as compared to 47 million in 2006.

Stress, an over-full lifestyle, poor diet, and especially the use of artificial light in the evening after going to bed, can all prevent sleep. As we reported earlier this year, lack of sleep makes you more likely to get sick, raises your risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, and makes you more prone to depression.

Some of the risks of sleeping pills are already well-documented: daytime drowsiness, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and addiction. But a new study published in the British Medical Journal says that people taking a prescription sleeping pill—even when taking fewer than eighteen pills per year—have nearly four times the mortality rate of those who don’t take the drugs. And patients who take higher doses of sleeping pills have a 35% increased cancer risk.

This study was prompted by earlier studies showing that hypnotic drugs are often deadly when mixed with alcohol or other drugs, are linked to an increased risk of car accidents and falls, may raise risk of suicide, and may damage chromosomes in cells which could lead to cancer.

What was significant about this study is that it was long-term, keeping track of 10,529 people who had at least one prescription for a sleeping pill between 2002 and 2007, compared with a control group. While the study doesn’t demonstrate causation, it did adjust for confounding factors such as age, smoking, weight, and other health conditions.

So why is FDA approving such dangerous sleeping pills? For one thing, the clinical trials required for FDA approval may be inadequate when it comes to hypnotic drugs. Many people take non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics for years, even though most are approved for only short-term use and their safety and effectiveness were not evaluated beyond several weeks in clinical trials. (One exception is Lunesta, which was tested for up to six months, and its list of known side effects is terrifying.)

Compare this to the FDA’s standard for supplements: the NDI draft guidance requires “25 years of widespread use” in order to meet the “history of safe use” standard, which must be met even for grandfathered supplements. (For more on grandfathered ingredients, see our article in this issue.) As the Life Extension Foundation points out, the safety testing required by FDA is wildly inappropriate for supplements, and is unnecessary for natural products with years of documented safe use. Yet despite their superb track record for safety, FDA and the media have cultivated an environment of fear around nutritional supplements—while maintaining a casual attitude toward dangerous (but approved) drugs.

If you have a sleep problem, consider natural approaches to help with your insomnia, and review these tips for improving your sleep. Sweet dreams!

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  • greenchili

    I appreciate the workd that ANH-USA do for my freedom to consume dietary supplements. Dealing with the FDA is a full time job in itself.

    From the last two emails that I’ve received from you, I noticed that Fracking on your list of concerns. Now, with dietary supplements, you are fighting with FDA and with Fracking you’re NOT fightinig with the FDA. So who is responsible for your concerns with Fracking? The EPA.

    The problem with a lot of companies and even our governments, they spread themselves too thin by trying to cover all bases which can cause the real important things to be missed.

    I agree that Fracking needs to be addressed to see if solutions can be found to prevent pollution of our drinking water. As a matter of fact I’ve purchased a stock because it had a machine that could clean up the oil laden gulf water due to BP’s negligence. There appears to be technology that exists that could really help clean up the polluted water. HOWEVER, this should be separated from dietary supplements becaues of politics.

    The politician who may address Fracking may not be the poitician that will support dietary supplements. I can see the Alliance setting up a separate dept. to address fracking, but I don’t think it should be lumped in with dietary supplements as your will be taking the eye off the ball that got you organized to begin with.

  • Phoebe W Hein

    I have sleep apnea, was always tired, waking during the night and never getting into a deep slerp. If I had just taken sleeping.pills bad things could have happened as the apnea worsened.

  • Lance Steel

    While “natural” home remedies would likely be preferable to pharmaceutical alternatives if they were effective, I will point out that studies have to be well designed to prove causality.

    Keep in mind that reasons why people who take sleeping pills die earlier and are predisposed to cancer may not be due to the pills themselves, but actually secondary to the underlying condition that causes their insomnia, and/or due to the stressful effects of chronic sleep deprivation.

    As you point out people who take very few sleeping pills are also affected, which could mean they are highly toxic, or paradoxically completely unrelated to the causes of early death.

    Don’t be surprised that a fair number of people in such studies also use the presumed non-toxic home remedies as adjuncts; in these cases one could similarly associate their usage to increase morbidity and mortality.

    • Lance Steel

      *”to increased morbidity”

  • Cliff

    Why resort to sensationalism in your title? It discredits an otherwise decent piece… Makes me wonder if the bad guys are the only ones with an agenda… You’re better than that

  • Shirley

    “We were unable to control for depression, anxiety and other emotional factors because of Pennsylvania laws protecting the confidentiality of these diagnoses.”

    I believe that not being able to control for psyhciatric illnesses or substance use/abuse really puts this study in perspective and thus is quite misleading. Many studies have shown the increase in health risk associated with depression, and substance use combined with sedatives greatly increases possiblility the of death. Substance use is not adequately addressed in primary care, actually depression is not either, so this study really does not give any conclusive results that are useful in my opinion

  • Donna

    Well I have been on sleeping pills for many years due to my Fibromyalgia, but I will be weaning myself off slowly and will be trying an herbal system I have been trying to get brave enough to do anyway.
    Thank you for this wonderful article. I just hope our government does not outlaw all things herbal.

    Do you have any suggestions as to a good herbal plan?
    Thank you again.

    • Donna try Formula 303 works great, but you need to take more then 3 times a day. This is homeopathic medication so you can take more( as needed)

  • Sonia

    Not surprising really. These meds interfere with the melatonin cycle. Taking natural, (non-patentable) melatonin on the other hand actually helps prevent cancer, improve conventional treatment odds and lowers re-occurence.

  • I literally nearly died of insomnia in 1995. I completely lost the ability to get to sleep. I was in acupuncture school at the time, and my teachers and I tried every available natural approach. Although I have often been able to treat insomnia in my patients with acupuncture and herbs, I was unable to survive without Ambien– even the other available prescription drugs failed. I was desperately ill and becoming psychotic from lack of sleep. Ambien saved my life. I really mean that.

    Now, if I had only had Ambien and no needles, herbs, homeopathic remedies, or psychological approaches such as hypnosis, I don’t think I would have done well. But the drug allowed me to get enough sleep to reach a point where I could respond to other treatment. There is decidedly a place for these drugs in our medical repertoire.

    Doctors shamed me for asking for sleeping pills. I don’t need you to criticize me for it too. If my lifetime use of sleeping pills shortens my ultimate lifespan, frankly, compared to the suffering I was enduring with that incredible insomnia, and the way my health was compromised because of it, it doesn’t seem like such a bad bargain.

  • Relosach

    Wheat germ helps and also brown rice.

  • Stuart Ezrin

    This is one more reason why Marijuana should be legal.
    Cannabis indica can be an excellent choice for helping one
    To fall asleep, with none of the side effects of these prescription drugs.

    • Okay then!!! As opposed to addictive drugs….right???? Obviously you have a bias. We surely need one more “drug” to be introduced and made legal so there is one more choice!! Good thinking!

      • Mindy Robinson

        Marijuana is not addictive. Just because you’re seen something in a “Just Say No” ad doesn’t make it true. Marijuana is an excellent, NATURAL herb that is effective in treating many conditions, including insomnia.

      • deltadawn

        Marijuana is no more a drug than other plant God put on this earth. It’s what man chooses to do with it that makes it dangerous!!

      • Lance Steel

        I’ll start off saying that I don’t smoke, Cannabis , tobacco, or anything else. Nonetheless this comment does show how differently people perceive what a drug is, especially ones not sanctioned by the government.

        drug (drg): n. A substance used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication.

        The “natural” herbal substances are also drugs assuming that they actually have a physiologic effect. Most pharmaceuticals originated from natural substances; major side effects of pharmaceuticals are often due to the highly concentrated and derivatized nature, which in many instances are also responsible for their increased efficacy over the host plant (that and the ability to standardized biological potency).

        The funny thing here is that Cannabis is most certainly an herbal natural drug that has been shown to have great efficacy in treatment of different medical conditions such as cancer related anorexia, AIDS wasting, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and pain associated with glaucoma. To put its potential addictive properties into perspective, according to the UK medical journal The Lancet, Cannabis has a lower rate of dependence compared to both nicotine and alcohol.

        It is easy to act self-righteously about one’s herbal drug of choice while simultaneously admonishing others for theirs, especially when medical Cannabis is reasonably safe and effective. It is particularly disturbing for someone unaffected by a severely dehabilitating condition that is responsive to Cannabis to use their layman-based opinions to offhandedly dismiss sufferers’ actual first-hand description of relief. In these cases it is apparent who actually has a bias, a poor-informed bias at that.

        • Lance Steel

          My response was directed at myra’s comment.

    • Little KAM

      are you on marijuana!!!! The side effects of marijuana are just as bad or worse then other drugs. I am for natural healing. I have Fibromyalgia ,arthritis and a few other health issues and I do not take any thing except ibuprofen once in a while.I take herbal pills and teas and doing just fine. when i have trouble sleeping I take a cup of valerian tea. Just for those of you who think nothing is wrong w/ marijuana here are just some side effects

      Marijuana side effects include physical problems like breathing difficulties and deteriorating physical abilities. Despite a popular belief, marijuana side effects speed up the heart, blood and breathing rate. The body is taxed more and this speeds up the aging process just like methamphetamines do. The marijuana side effects from this extra exertion on the body include a higher risk for lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

      Marijuana side effects also wreak havoc on the brain when the drug is used habitually. The natural chemical balance of the brain is disrupted affecting the pleasure centers and regulatory systems. The ability to learn, remember and adapt quickly to changes is impaired by marijuana use. Depression often occurs with marijuana usage, which feeds into the cycle of more drug use to treat the pain created by drug use. This cycle of addiction is very powerful and users soon find that they cannot stop using the drug even if they want to.

      Marijuana addiction is a progressive disease and marijuana side effects include withdrawal and obsessive thought with the drug when it is not made available. Addiction is identified as a compulsive, uncontrollable craving for the drug even with pending negative consequences. Often users will attempt to stop smoking marijuana for an important event such as a job interview or court hearing and find themselves using very close or just before the event. This act goes beyond a flexing of willpower. This describes being enveloped by a disease that has taken control and needs to be treated.

      this is a very dangerous drug. My neighbor smoked it from the age 12 and is now 44 and still smokes it he was in the 8th grade for 4 years they passed him to the 9th grade and quite halfway through. He has no job and never has. He grows and sells marijuana and that’s his so called life. He looks,walks and talks like he is 80. so if you want to smoke it go for it!!!!!

    • BlogZilla

      The reason marijuana isn’t legal, is due to the way it smells, which is incredibly offensive to most people–worse than cigars. Also many people have allergic reactions to marijuana. It’s not a pleasant experience. Would you be advocating substances that make you sick? I think not. So try deep within your heart not to be so selfish. Fine if you wanna smoke it, but do in the privacy of your own space. Oh, and I won’t fart around you either.

      Marijuana is also illegal due to the fact other industries could not compete with it’s many superior industrial uses. USA is not as free as you thought it was. Forget all that propaganda.

      Also, in some ways I don’t know what your complaint is. In California and Colorado, marijuana is pretty much legal. and easy to get under a medical marijuana “umbrella”. So, it is legal, it’s just not legal in your community. Oh well. Porn is not legal in some communities in the USA either.

  • kimberlee

    When younger, I slept like a rock – no waking me without a lot of effort. Then, some 35 yrs. later, I entered full-fledged menopause, like any other woman. The confusion that followed I finally nailed down to insomnia. I could fall asleep, but would wake up for 1-4 hours in the middle of the night, then slumber for about another 3 hours. That wouldn’t do.
    I tried Ambien but after a week of falling asleep and then waking up in a START after exactly 7 hours and 15 min., I couldn’t take it any more. I didn’t feel rested so much as knocked out and then abruptly awakened feeling like I got no sleep because it seemed like I’d lost the ability to Dream. Very disturbing. Same thing happened after a week on Lunesta but not so startling.
    Then I checked the ingredients on the natural OTC meds. They were too expensive for me, but noticed they all had valerian root, which I found to be most affordable.
    Like other herbal remedies I’d tried, I learned that my body had to “learn” them. So I tripled the dosage recommeded for three nights. BOY OH BOY! Got the Best, most Relaxed sleep ever! And the better part was that after a two-week protocol, my body “learned” to sleep again.
    I go back to it on occasion when insomnia hits, but generally, I never need it for more than a few nights. Everyone should give it a try.

    • Patrick O’Flaherty

      Kimberlee,

      How many milligrams of Valerian Root did you take each night?

      Was that a standardized or non-strandardized potency?

      Thanks,

      Patrick

    • Choymae Huie

      I also find a good mineral supplement does wonders. I think muscles needs calcium to relax and magnesium to contract, or maybe visa versa. That’s why it’s usually in combination with each other. For me, most of my sleeplessness is not enough minerals. Unfortunately many minerals are in short supply in our soil.

    • Choymae Huie

      Valerian root is probably mineral dense.

  • Stephen M

    Couldn’t the increased risk of cancer new from these insomnia itself? Lack of sleep destroys the immune system and increases cancer risk. These people taking these drugs are already a much higher risk group because the drugs are used in patients with severe insomnia. I’m not saying that I think that these drugs are safe, but as a cancer patient who has always suffered serve insomnia, I educated myself about the effects of sleep deprivation.