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Are Your Sleeping Pills Killing You?

Alarming new study finds sleeping pills carry a greater risk of death.

We all know by now just how important it is to get a good night's sleep. And those with sleeping problems understand the relief that comes with a solid eight hours of rest, even if it means taking sleeping pills. However, those seemingly magic pills may also come with a nightmare—in the form of early death. By looking at the medical records of 10,529 people, researchers found that having a prescription for sleeping pills—such as Ambien, Restoril and others—can dramatically increase your risk of death. People who were prescribed 18 or fewer pills in a year were 3.6 times more likely to die during the two-and-a-half years that they were monitored. The risk increased with the number of pills prescribed, jumping to 5.3 times for those taking more than 132 pills a year. Not only were people who were prescribed sleeping pills more likely to die early than those who didn’t get a prescription, they also had a greater risk of certain cancers such as lymphoma and prostate, colon, or lung cancer. The risk of cancer from taking sleeping pills was greater than that from smoking. The researchers aren’t certain what the underlying cause for the greater deaths is. Other factors, such as mental illness, may play a role, but the researchers don’t think it could explain such a large increased risk. With six percent to 10 percent of adults in the U.S. taking medication to help them sleep, this study is likely to cause a few sleepless nights. Like all medications, sleeping pills are not without risks. If you are taking sleeping pills now, talk with your doctor about whether those risks outweigh the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

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