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Sleeping Pill Dangers

Man struggling with sleep

When scientists analyze data, they are careful to observe that because one thing is associated, or correlated, with another thing — that doesn’t automatically prove that one caused the other. “Correlation, not causation,” is how they put it. Still, science sits up and takes notice when an association is significantly strong.

British scientists have found a significant association with common sleeping pill use and increased risk of cancer and death in a group of more than 10,000 people studied over a five-year period. Those who took benzodiazepines (such as Valium), non-benzodiazepines (such as Ambien), barbituates, or sedative antihistamines (over-the-counter products such as Sominex or Z-Quil) were significantly more likely to develop cancer, or to die. The effect was significant even with relatively low use, even just 18 doses a year, the researchers found. And the level of risk rose right along with the doses.

The risk of cancer among people taking the most sleeping pills was 35% higher than among those who didn’t use medication for sleep. Pre-existing poor health did not explain this difference, the report noted.

Ponder, Don’t Panic

Does this mean if you take sleeping pills you’re doomed? No. It’s important to understand statistical findings in context. That means to consider the news along with other variables — one reassuring fact being that the overall numbers of deaths in each group were quite small. Still, the rise in risk was real.

It may be wise to think about other proven ways to ward off insomnia rather than taking that convenient little tablet. For example, although there is debate about the timing of exercise for the best sleep, in general, the more exercise you get, the less insomnia will trouble you. Moderate exercise before bed is a good idea, plus a more intense workout earlier in the day.

Seems like common sense that if you regularly get good and tired from exertion and you’re not too wound up from stress, getting to sleep shouldn’t be much of a problem. But since we’ve become a more sedentary (and stressed) society, we have to make moving our bodies and calming our minds conscious, planned priorities. Gyms and yoga classes are great, but so are gardens, meditation and calisthenics. Pick your own potions.

Fabulous Fatigue

Is it worth the effort? Next time you reach for a sleeping pill, ask yourself what it might feel like to lie down tomorrow night with “positive fatigue” — that pleasant, glowing tiredness you feel when your body’s been as active as your mind. That could be the best sleeping draught of all.

And here’s a replacement Rx: invest in your sleep with the best natural mattress you can find. Once you’re ready for bed, a comfortable, supportive mattress will help lull you to dreamland. A customized mattress made just for you makes it easier to restore yourself with natural sleep, instead of the medicated kind.

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