Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Higher death risk with sleeping pills"?

I read in the press today that if you take anything from 1 to 100 sleeping tablets in any one year, then there is a 3.6 times greater risk of death and a higher risk of cancer. Scarey stuff!

For all my medical career I have been adverse to the use of sleeping tablets as no matter what the drug companies may say, there is inevitably some side effect - even for the so called "short acting" ones. I personally remember over 30 years ago taking a flight from Melbourne to the UK for a conference. I took a Barbiturate, which at that time were still the best "sedative" available ... that is until they were banned! I swallowed it shortly after take off and had to be woken in Abu Dabi where we changed planes. A kindly fellow passenger found me wandering around the airport when our connecting flight was called, and directed me to the embarkation area. I resumed sleeping until I arrived in London - some 22 hours after I took the stuff! Probably that's the reason I have always been very wary of using, or prescribing them.

But then there's the other side of the coin.

The aging process brings with it all sorts of degenerative ailments and many of them painful. Aging can also interfere with the normal diurnal sleep pattern in many people especially those with dementing disorders, causing the sufferer to wake in the middle of the night honestly believing that it is the middle of the day. For these people, the use of sedatives in an appropriate fashion combined with their other medication may well be the best chance that they - and their spouses - will get for a decent nights sleep so that they can cope with the following day. The fact that you're 79 with multiple health problems means that you might need to take a sleeping tablet in consultation with your treating physician: and in my book, the increased chance of "death" shouldn't enter the equation of whether its the right thing to do - until we get a better way of treating these conditions!

I am a great fan of preventative health, but I am not a great fan of the Banner Headlines that often accompany them. Medicine has to be adapted to the individual and one size does not fit all.

I hope that has given Editors and journalists something to sleep on!
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Anonymous said...

I have never taken a sleeping pill in my life but there was a time when stress and anxiety was keeping me awake at night. My homeopath recommended biochemic phosphates. They seem to ease the mind and calm you so that you can fall asleep. Obviously no good for age related sleeping pattern problems but perhaps helpful for others?

Mariodacatsmom said...

I have used Ambien off and on through the years, but nothing since being on Parkinson's drugs - afraid of the mix. You are a doctor after my own heart - individually tailor meds to fit the patient.