How Safe Are Sleeping Pills?


Recent studies show that almost 9 Million Americans, around 4% of U.S. people with ages 20 and above, take medicated sleeping aid that addresses sleeping concerns. This rising number requires that the most common prescription sleeping drugs now bear more compelling risk warnings.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a black box warning on three prescription sleep aids namely zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), and eszopiclone, which is often retailed under the brand name Lunesta. The black box warning is issued by the FDA to warn against life-threatening risks, a danger posed by the above-mentioned hypnotic drugs. The agency stated that 46 non –fatal but serious injuries in the form of falls and near-drowning and unintentional overdoses, and 20 cases of deaths resulting from car accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, and suicide, have been reported in connection to these drugs.

Researches indicate the following safety and possible risks of prescription sleep aids:

1.    They have substantiated side effects

Side effects differ by prescription but they typically include headache, light-headedness, lethargy, allergic response, gastrointestinal problems, carrying out everyday tasks while partially awake, and memory issues. Zolpidem has also been linked to behaviour that leads to suicide.

2.    They are linked to fatal conditions

In 2012, a report showed that people who were given prescription sleep aids had 35% more probability to obtain cancer than people who don’t use them. Despite the study showing only an association, it is recommended not to take sleeping pills every night or for time longer than which is prescribed. A more recent study also showed that use of hypnotic drugs is linked to cases of more serious physical and psychological issues, and even early death.  

3.    They are addictive

A published paper in 2011 stated that nightly consumption of sleeping pills can result to addiction which potentially makes it more difficult to sleep without taking it or a stronger dose.

Reducing the risk of taking sleeping aids is possible but most importantly, the underlying reasons that contribute to sleeping problems should be addressed instead of depending on these drugs.