Relying on a Pill to Help You Sleep? Be Warned, it Could Lead to Alzheimers
Chronic insomnia is a miserable experience. Being unable to fall asleep not only means long, lonely nights tossing and turning in bed whilst your partner snores beside you, but can also have a huge impact on all other areas of your life; leaving you feeling exhausted and unable to cope.
However, before you reach for the sleeping pills, think again. According to recent research, sleeping pills could increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%.
Sleeping Pills: Dangerous for Your Brain?
In 2013, GPs issued over 6 million prescriptions for sleeping pills in the UK. However, research undertaken at the University of Bordeaux and other research centres in France and Canada, found disturbing links between use of certain sleeping pills and Alzheimer’s .
The researchers used data taken from patients in Quebec, over a period of at least six years. The extensive study demonstrated that benzodiazepines found in certain types of sleeping pills were linked to a 51% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This link between sleeping pills and Alzheimer’s was stronger in cases where the patient had taken the drugs over an extended period of time, or where they had used longer-acting versions of the pill.
They concluded that the discovery was of great significance, especially when ‘considering the prevalence and chronicity of benzodiazepine use in elderly populations and the high and increasing incidence of dementia in developed countries.’
‘More Research Needs to be Taken’
Dr James Pickett, who is head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, urges people to view the results sensibly. Whilst he agrees that the discovery should encourage people to be aware of the dangers of using benzodiazepines on a long-term basis, he also emphasises that, when used for short periods of time, the sleeping pills can serve to help with insomnia and anxiety.
Professor Guy Goodwin, president of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, adds that ‘many treatments can look bad because they are given to sick people. This is “confounding by indication” and is the bane of all epidemiological studies of drug exposure.’ He continues by stating that the results are ‘more likely to mean that the drugs are being given to people who are already ill. In other words, we are seeing an association, rather than a cause.’
How Safe Are Sleeping Pills?
Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that the study was examining prescription sleeping pills, not those readily available at your local pharmacy. It’s also important to remember that the research only examined those over the age of 66 or over, who may have already been susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease.
However, what is undeniable is that long-term use of prescription sleeping pills is not a good idea. Prescribed sleeping medication should only ever be used as a short-term solution. If you still continue to have problems sleeping, you may find it beneficial to explore other forms of treatment, such as counselling or hypnosis. There are also other things you can do to help improve sleep, including meditation, avoiding stimulants before bedtime, removing electrical products from your bedroom and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
If you’re concerned about your sleep, it’s important to speak to your GP, who will be able to help you come up with a solution.