MINNEAPOLIS - Sleeping pills may help you get some shut eye. But a new study found people who popped prescription strength sleep aids, even fewer than 18 pills a year, were nearly four times more likely to die earlier, or get cancer, than those who do not take sleeping pills.
It is known that good sleep is essential to good health so some people take sleeping pills to get that rest. But the new study of nearly 35,000 people, published in the British Medical Journal, may now have some putting the pills away.
Dr. Michael Howell, who treats those with sleep issues at the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview Sleep Disorder Center, said, "It will reinforce that these meds need to be prescribed with caution."
He said the risks of prescription sleeping pills have been known but it has been unclear if the patients' health issues or the sleeping pills were the cause.
Howell said, "But this essentially takes us a little step further into actually suggesting it may be the medications that are actually the problem."
He said that's because the study compared those who took sleeping pills with those who didn't but who had similar health issues.
The study said six to ten-percent of Americans were prescribed sleep aids in 2010.
Howell said some of those prescriptions were likely not necessary. He said what should be taken from this study is that, "People who are on these medications and their physicians should take a hard look to see if they are necessary.
Howell said don't stop taking your sleeping medication yet. Some people need it. But your insomnia could actually be sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome for which there are other therapies.
And those with correctly diagnosed with insomnia may want to consider alternative treatments like cognitive behavior therapy instead of popping more pills.
Dr. Howell says this study looked at sleep medications new and old, from Ambien to Valium. He said more study needs to be done to find out exactly why prescription sleeping pills are associated with a greater risk of cancer and death.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)