Sleeping Pills Can Be Deadly

When you can’t sleep, the temptation to pop a sleeping pill is strong. But did you know you could be risking your life?

There’s a large body of research indicating that sleeping pills may contribute to as many as 500,000 deaths each year in the United States. Most sleeping pills are “sedative hypnotics”—a class of drugs used to treat anxiety. Examples include Xanax, Valium, Lunesta, and Ambien. Most of these drugs are highly addictive and come with a range of side effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired coordination.

Sleeping Pills’ Dark Side

The most serious risks of these drugs relate to their effects on memory and behavior. Because they act on brain chemistry, sleeping pills can cause changes in brain function and behavior, including memory impairment, nervousness, confusion, hallucinations, irritability, and aggressiveness. They have also been shown to increase feelings of depression, including suicidal thinking.

Daniel F. Kripke, MD, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, has worked for more than 30 years assessing the risk of sleeping pills, and his findings are stunning.

For one thing, 18 population-based studies have shown a clear link between the use of sleeping pills and increased mortality risk. Four of these studies specifically found that the use of sleeping pills predicted increased risk of death from cancer.

In Kripke’s latest study, published February 2012 in BMJ Online, his team obtained medical records for 10,529 people prescribed hypnotic sleeping pills, and compared them to records for 23,676 matched patients never prescribed sleeping pills. Over an average of 2½ years, the death rate for those who did not use sleeping pills was 1.2 percent, versus 6.1 percent for those who did. Subjects with sleeping pill prescriptions also had a 35 percent higher risk of cancer. Based on these findings, Kripke estimates that sleeping pills can be linked to 320,000—507,000 US deaths each year.

Poor Sleep Quality

Sleep recharges the energy within our cells and, among other things, helps to remove harmful chemicals from the body—particularly the brain. Sleep also helps enhance antioxidant mechanisms that reduce free radical damage. A likely explanation for the potential negative effects of sleeping pills is that they interfere with these normal sleep patterns, thereby robbing the body of sleep’s powerful healing effects.

Sleeping pills are also notorious for preventing deeper stages of non-REM sleep. That’s usually why these drugs produce a morning “hangover” feeling.

Cause and Effect

The first step is to identify and address the causes of the problem. Consider sleep maintenance insomnia, when people are able to fall asleep but awaken in the middle of the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep. Many people with this condition suffer from faulty blood sugar control, so addressing that issue can dramatically improve sleep quality.

Other common causes of insomnia are stress, depression, anxiety, caffeine sensitivity, and even certain medications—there are well over 300 drugs that can interfere with normal sleep.

Natural Sleep Aids

It’s important for people to utilize natural measures to treat insomnia, as doing so avoids the major health consequences associated with sleeping pills.

I recommend a combination of melatonin (3 mg), 5-HTP (30 mg), and L-theanine (200 mg). These ingredients work together to decrease nighttime awakenings and the time required to fall asleep.

Recent studies have also substantiated the herb valerian’s ability to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia. As a mild sedative, use up to 900 mg, 30-45 minutes before going to bed.

There are lots of free articles about safe, effective, natural alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter medications at my website: And if you sign up for Weekly Fast Facts at the website, you’ll receive a free copy of my book, Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia! What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.

By, Dr. Michael Murray

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Michael T. Murray ND is a naturopathic physician regarded as one of the world’s top authorities
on natural medicine. An educator, lecturer, researcher, and health food industry consultant, he
is the author of more than 30 books, including his newest with coauthor Joseph Pizzorno ND,
The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria, 2012). Learn more at

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.10 months ago

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Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra2 years ago

Thank you Care2 Healthy Living Guest Blogger, for Sharing this!

Mike W.
Mike Wilson2 years ago

It is always advisable to avoid the deadly consequences of having sleeping pills on a regular basis..Personally I find having a glass of warm milk with a pinch of turmeric before bedtime, to be ideal in inducing sleep..It really helps..

Cynthia Kathleen
Cindy Parks2 years ago

Avoid the sleeping pills and watch a Michael Cain movie instead. Listening to him helps Morgan Freeman fall asleep. Haha

Elisabeth T.
Elisabeth T.2 years ago

Thanks for the good information & comments.

Val M.
Val M.2 years ago

Thanks for the article

Patricia H.
Patricia H.2 years ago

thanks for the info

Elisa Faulkner- Uriarte
Elisa F.2 years ago

Thanks for the useful info...nighty night. Zzzzzz :)

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey2 years ago

I have heard about valarian before. It is said to induce induce vivid dreaming as well as being a good sleep aid.