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Sleeping Pills & Tranquilizers Can Shorten Your Life

Updated on February 6, 2011

Do you need a benzodiazepine or other sedative-hypnotic drug in order to sleep each night? Although popping a pill may seem like a quick fix for sleepless nights, do you know that the drug you're taking could shorten your life?

Based on a 12-year study by Université Laval in Québec, researchers found that medications used to treat insomnia or anxiety disorder may elevate one's risk of dying by 36 percent. Yes, you heard it right -- 36 percent.

After pouring through the survey results of about 14,000 Canadians aged between 18 to 102, experts reached the conclusion after comparing the mortality rate of those who reported taking insomnia or anxiety-relieving drugs at least once in the month with those who didn't. Known factors that affect mortality rate, such as physical health, tobacco use, activity level and symptoms of depression, had been accounted for.

Researchers attributed the link between early death and sedative-hypnotic drugs to the side effects caused by these medications. Sleeping pills and anxiety drugs have been known to cause decreased concentration, clumsiness, dizziness and slower reaction that may lead to falls and other accidents.

The medications may also worsen the condition of certain breathing problems. Some of the drugs could also affect judgment and thus increase the risk of suicide due to the effects they have on the central nervous system.


What Does This Mean to You

Here are some take-away messages from this study:

  • Sleeping pills, sedatives and anti-anxiety medications are no candies. Don't pop them just because you've a presentation tomorrow and you're too nervous to sleep.
  • Don't buy over-the-counter drugs to self-treat your insomnia or anxiety. Although some drugs may have drowsiness or sedative effect as a side effect, they are not meant for treating insomnia or anxiety.
  • For mild insomnia and anxiety, try drug-free ways to help you sleep better or to help relieve your anxiety. Some suggestions are included below for your reference.
  • If you need to use sleeping or anti-anxiety pills, discuss with your physician on how long you need to take and know the possible side effects.
  • In the course of taking these drugs, ask your doctor for referrals to complementary drug-free therapies, such as meditation, psychotherapy and other relaxation techniques, to hasten your recovery and cut your reliance on medications.
  • If you are prescribed anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills, you should never take them with substances like other sedatives and sleeping drugs, painkillers and alcohol as combining them can cause dangerous drug interactions.


Drug-Free Ways to Relieve Insomnia and Anxiety

For insomnia:

  • Half an hour before bedtime, do some light reading. Magazines and light novels are some good reading materials you can use to induce sleep.
  • If noises from your neighbors are keeping you awake, use a sound machine that generates white noise to mask the offending noise. Nowadays, you can even find sound machine that adjusts its recording and volume according to the noise level in your room all by itself, such as the Ecotones Duet Sleep Sound Machine. This sound machine can also play relaxing sounds of nature that are conducive for sleep.
  • Keep your room as dark as possible. Most people sleep better in very dark rooms. If lights from street lights are affecting your sleep pattern, install thicker curtains to block off stray lights. If there are electronics in your room that give out light, consider moving them out of your bedroom.
  • Exercise during the day. Research found that doing moderate exercises during the day can help you to sleep better at night, in addition to their other health-enhancing effects. Engage in a favorite exercise that you like and do it every other day.
  • Refrain from working before sleep. With our increasingly heavy workload, many people are bringing work home more often. But, working before bedtime can sometimes overstimulate our mind to the point that we can shut off our mind and sleep when the time calls for it. If you're prone to this, try not to work before sleeping. Or better, don't bring work home!


For anxiety:

  • Learn one or two meditation techniques for beginners. Meditation techniques such as breathing meditation requires you to focus on your breaths and thus, helps to turn your attention away from your anxiousness. Deep and slow breathing has also been found to be effective in eliciting your body's own natural relaxation response.
  • Write down your anxious thoughts. Often, anxiety begins with a thought that goes out of control. Journaling can help to nip anxiety in the bud by offloading your mind of your thoughts before they run riot. Then, if you wish, you can use writing to further resolve any problems that you've written down.
  • Talk it out. People who have anxiety issues are often afraid to tell others about it. But, talking over your worries and things that make you anxious with someone you trust can be extremely therapeutic.
  • Learn to let go more, especially for things beyond your control. One of the causes of anxiety is helplessness. And one surefire way to make yourself feel completely helpless is to try to change something beyond your control, like the weather, the stock market or your spouse. Learn to change your perspective, no matter how slow it will take (don't give up!), and not sweat over things you've no power over.
  • Eat mostly whole, nutritious foods. Some people believe that eating highly processed and nutrient-deficient foods can lead not just to chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer, but also mental disorders such as anxiety. For the sake of your health, mental and physical, eat minimally processed and preferably organic foods that are in season.


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      Annamie Cureteyz 5 years ago

      Yikes, really?! It is definitely not advisable for those who can't sleep to resort to sleeping pills to have that very good night sleep. There are actually lots of ways to have that normal sleep.

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      George 5 years ago

      This makes me worry more to know that anxiety can shorten life