Can sleeping pills be dangerous?

Many people around the world suffer insomnia and complain of poor sleep. If you are one of them, you may be considering taking sleeping pills to deal with the problem. A sleeping pill may be effective in the short term, but it is important to understand everything you need to know about the pills, including their side effects to make an informed decision on using them. So, can sleeping pills be dangerous?

Sleeping pills

Most sleeping pills fall in a specific class of drugs that induce or maintain sleep by 'sedative hypnotics'. Seductive hypnotic pills include drugs like barbiturates, benzodiazepines and various other hypnotics. These drugs increase drowsiness and enable people to fall asleep, but they are potentially addictive.

Newer sleep-inducing pills are designed to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. They include drugs like Sonata, Ambien and Lunesta. These newer sleeping pills are non-habit forming and work relatively quicker than older sedative-hypnotic pills. They cause drowsiness and consequently sleep faster.

Side effects

Like most medications, sleeping pills have side effects but you won’t know whether you will experience any side effects with a particular type of pill until you try it. Your doctor may anticipate possible side affects you may experience and so it is a good idea to consult with him or her beforehand.

Generally, however, sleeping pills reduce the pace at which you breathe and make you breathe less deeply. Breathing less deeply and more slowly can be dangerous for people with respiratory problems like asthma.


A recent report by Dr. Daniel Kripke and colleagues from the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California, U.S.A warns against dependence on sleeping pills to combat insomnia. According to the report, people who take particular prescription sleeping pills may be up to five times more likely to die early than people who don’t use sleeping pills, even if they take the pills once in a while.

Dr. Daniel Kripke’s study that was published in the February 2012 issue of the BMJ Open Journal showed that people who take as few as 18 pills a year are 3.6 times more susceptible to die early than people who don’t take sleeping pills. Those who take 18 to 132 pills a year are up to five times more likely to die early.

The report, however, was clear that an association between sleeping pills and more deaths does not prove the pills are the cause of the deaths, but the evidence points in that direction.

The report’s authors had this to say about the benefits of sleeping pills: "The meagre benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks."

The researchers pointed out that "A consensus is developing that cognitive-behavioural therapy of chronic insomnia may be more successful than hypnotics.”

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