Sleeping-pill poppers more likely to die early: Study

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Toronto: Sleeping pill users are a third
more likely to die prematurely than those who do not, a new
Canadian study has warned.

Researchers at Laval University`s School of Psychology in
Quebec found that death rates were significantly higher among
sleeping pill users and those taking tablets to ease anxiety.

"These medications aren`t candy and taking them is far
from harmless," Genevieve Belleville, who led the study, was
quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

For their study, Dr Belleville and her team analysed 12
years of data on more than 12,000 Canadians. They derived the
data from Canada`s National Population Health Survey.

Pills used ranged from over-the-counter antihistamines to
powerful prescription-only preparations such as Valium.

After taking into account alcohol and tobacco consumption,
physical health, physical activity and depression, the
researchers found that the drugs were linked to a 36 per cent
increase in the risk of death.

Pill takers were more likely to succumb to every type of
illness, from parasites to cancer, Dr Belleville said.

Giving possible explanations for the alarming statistic,
she said that both sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs can
affect a person`s alertness and co-ordination, which could
make them more prone to falls and other accidents.

Tablets might also suppress the respiratory system, which
could aggravate breathing problems during sleep, particularly
for those with heart problems. In addition, effects on the
brain could affect judgement and moods, increasing the risk of
suicide, Dr Belleville said.

However, the study did not distinguish between those who
were heavy users and those who only took them occasionally.

The study stressed on giving more prominence to cognitive
behavioural therapy, a type of talking therapy, rather than
medication to treat insomnia.

Dr Belleville said: "Given that cognitive behavioural
therapies have shown good results in treating insomnia and
anxiety, doctors should systematically discuss such therapies
with their patients as an option.

"Combining a pharmacological approach in the short-term
with psychological treatment is a promising strategy for
reducing anxiety and promoting sleep."

However, British experts questioned whether the Canadian
study had over-stated the risks. And they stressed that while
sleeping pills should be prescribed prudently they still have
a place in modern medicine.

They said that although the study had tried to account
for the effect of health problems, marriage breakdowns and
other factors, it is likely that these "underlying problems"
still skewed the result.

The study was published in the Canadian Journal of
Psychiatry.

PTI