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If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting as much sleep as you need to function during the day -- you may be tempted to use anything that will help you sleep.
Big mistake. You may be putting your life on the line if you use sleeping pills.
If you think popping a pill will solve your sleep problems, you may not want to read this, because it's almost certain to change your mind. In the next few minutes I'll reveal not only the severe dangers of sleeping pills versus their very dubious benefits, but also what you can replace them with.
A quick look at the new studies coming out will really keep you up at night.
In 2010, up to one in 20 American adults took a sleeping pill. That comes to about 56 million prescriptions just in the U.S.
This late-breaking study, published February 27, 2012 by the medical journal BMJ Open, casts a shadow over this rapidly-expanding segment of the pharmaceutical industry. "Rapidly expanding" is an understatement: Use of sleeping pills jumped by 23 percent in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010 — and generates a staggering $2 billion in annual sales.
Among the study's disparaging findings:
"Popular sleeping pills are associated with a shocking excess of deaths and a horrible increase in new cancers," says Dr. Daniel Kripke, of the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center in La Jolla, California, one of the study's researchers.
Here's how the researchers discovered this shocking news…
They tracked over 10,500 people for an average of 2½ years between 2002 and 2007. They compared survival among these patients versus 23,500 people matched for age, sex, lifestyle factors, and underlying health problems who did not take sleeping pills.
In other words, they looked every which way they could to ascribe this disastrous effect to something else. And they couldn't find another cause!
Said co-author of the study, Robert D. Langer, MD, MPH, of the Jackson Hole Center for Preventive Medicine in Jackson, Wyoming… "We tried every practical strategy to make these associations go away, thinking that they could be due to use by people with more health problems, but no matter what we did the associations with higher mortality held."
The drugs in the study included the popular benzodiazepines (temazepam), non-benzodiazepines (Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata), plus barbiturates and sedative anti-histamines.
They found that the class of sleeping pill does not matter. All of them dramatically increase risk.
A battery of risky side effects
Dr. Kripke is quick to point out that you are likely to die sooner if you take sleeping pills. And you're 35 percent more likely to get cancer (if you take more than 132 pills per year).
"For the particular sleeping pills studied, I do not see any time I would prescribe them," he continues.
Dr. Kripke reports that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents on some of the newer sleeping pills showed that all of the pills caused cancer in animals! But it seems the results haven't been published… which sort of begs the question "Why?"
"Several years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started making available on the Internet some of their documents about the review of those newer sleeping pills approved for marketing in the United States since 1998.
"… To my great surprise, I learned that rats and mice given high doses of zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta) as part of zopiclone, and ramelteon (Rozerem) developed cancer. The information available was a little vague to be certain, but it seems that these new sleeping pills all caused cancer in animals. I am no expert on experiments of this type, but FDA reviewers thought some of the results were worrisome.
"One of the reasons I am not sure I understand these results is that I cannot find that the companies have ever published the details in the medical literature. It is conceivable that the manufacturers do not want these cancer experiments understood. These drugs also broke chromosomes, which is a well-known specific chemical mechanism by which drugs cause cancer." [Emphasis mine.]
Other strange and not-so-strange side effects
Weird and strange side effects, and the mechanisms that may be at work, include:
NOT the miracle sleep aid you were promised
Sleeping pills' underwhelming benefits — drum roll please…
Sleeping pills help you fall asleep less than 13 minutes faster and sleep less than 11 minutes longer!
How's that for a pathetic "benefit"?
It's true. Studies financed by the National Institutes of Health in 2007 compared sleeping pills to fake pills and found that sleeping pills such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata changed average sleep time by mere minutes... although participants believed they had slept up to one hour longer when taking sleeping pills.
This could actually be due to a specific type of amnesia, where you forget what's just happened. You may have, in fact, simply forgotten that you were unable to sleep!
Using sleeping pills is also well known to impair your cognitive function the next day.
So unlike a genuine restful night's sleep that leaves you alert and refreshed, a mere 11 minutes of extra sleep (or what you think is more sleep) slows down your brain — and continues to do so even after the sun comes up.
It can leave you with a sleeping pill "hangover" that can cause confusion, sleepiness, and likely increases falls and automotive accidents. I believe the hangover effect is more common with older generation sleeping pills than with the new ones like Lunesta, which actually produce fewer next-day effects for most people. (That's the very benefit marketers have used to sell these new-generation sleep aids.) But ANY type of sleep drug carries some risk of cognitive impairment and fatigue the following day.
Certain sleeping pills, such as those containing Benadryl, can have a half-life of 18 hours. So if you take them nightly, you're sedated for a large part of every "waking" day. (I have a deep loathing of Benadryl, an antihistamine that I've tried for treating allergy symptoms. It's a mind-altering drug if ever there was one.)
If you resort to pharmaceutical sleep aids, you're not only shortening your life, but you're missing out on the days you have left, as well!
Liver damage alert!
Many over the counter sleep aids contain acetaminophen (Tylenol type products) — especially those that promise pain relief, too.
Warning: The #1 cause of acute liver failure in the U.S. is taking too much acetaminophen! And that's incredibly easy to do, considering how many OTC and prescription products contain it.
If you have a cold, headache, or other aches and pains that make it hard to sleep, you may have already taken one or more acetaminophen-containing products for pain relief… Then when you add another dose for sleeping, you're truly adding fuel to the fire. And no one warned you that compounding doses of acetaminophen can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.
I repeat: it is very easy to overdose on acetaminophen — an important risk especially if you take Tylenol PM, Excedrin PM or other acetaminophen-containing sleep aids regularly.
Wellness 101 revisited
Let me put this in perspective.
Sleeping pills do nothing to remedy the underlying reasons for sleep troubles. This may be why studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy can treat insomnia better than drugs.
One such study showed that insomniacs who received behavioral therapy not only spent less time awake at night but also spent more time in the deepest stages of sleep compared to those given drugs.
The medical staff at the Viterbi Family Sleep Center focus on cognitive therapy that teaches patients how to enjoy better sleep.
For example, some people suffering from insomnia may not require the recommended eight hours of sleep.
Others can learn to practice good sleeping habits and relaxation, plus utilizing the body's natural clock which is driven by the rising and setting of the sun. These are tools that don't require a prescription.
When insomnia is caused by emotional problems like depression, doctors should treat the underlying psychological disorder rather than just throwing a sleeping pill at the patient, says Kripke.
Honestly, if you value your life enough to really engage in it, and don't want to cut it off suddenly, find a good alternative health practitioner who can help wean you from sleeping pills and then detox yourself of their accumulated residues.
And put your money to much better use with the following all-natural strategies you can use to get better sleep tonight:
Lee Euler Publisher
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