“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
If you’re taking a prescription sleep aid, that might happen sooner than you think.
Dear Living Well Daily Reader,
The results are in!
Thank you to all who took our sleep survey. We now have a much better idea of what types of sleep problems you’re experiencing and how to help you get the best sleep you can.
One thing we noticed is that many of you have been so desperate for sleep that you’ve resorted to OTC or prescription sleep meds. A lot of you, in fact. I too have been so desperate for sleep that I’ve used sleep medications. Having suffered from insomnia for the past four years, I know exactly how you feel.
Many of you noted that you’d rather not use these meds and are wary of potential long-term effects of them.
And you have a right to be concerned.
A lot of things happen when you sleep, and one important thing is that your brain clears away beta-amyloid proteins. These proteins have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
So you definitely want to make sure you get enough sleep… but if you use a certain over-the-counter sleep medication, you could actually be raising your risk of dementia.
Researchers have found that diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, Unisom, Unisom SleepGels, ZzzQuil, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and more, has been linked to a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s in older adults. (And the acetaminophen in Tylenol PM carries its own slew of risks, which I point out in this article.)
The study authors tracked almost 3,500 adults over the age of 65 who had no dementia symptoms at the start of the seven-year study. They added up the average daily doses of certain medicines and then determined which ones correlated with the number of participants that developed dementia by the end of the study. (1)
According to lead study author Professor Shelly Gray of the University of Washington School of Pharmacy in Seattle, “The dose of diphenhydramine that would correspond to the highest-risk group is taking the equivalent of 50 mg each day for longer than three years — or 25 mg per day for longer than six years in duration.”
A single tab of Benadryl is 25mg, with the dose being one-two tabs. As many of you commented, your insomnia has been a chronic condition. If you’re using a diphenhydramine sleep aid, you could be setting yourself up for major brain decline as you age.
Exactly the opposite of what restful, refreshing sleep is supposed to do.
And if you’re taking a prescription sleep aid, there’s even more cause for concern.
A study out of the University of California, San Diego found that hypnotic sleep aids such as Ambien and Restoril “could be as risky as smoking cigarettes” in regard to increasing your risk of death or cancer. (2)
The study authors compared the medical records of 10,529 people who had been prescribed hypnotic sleep aids against the records of 23,676 matched patients who were never prescribed sleep aids.
They found that those who used the largest number of sleep aids had a 5.3-fold higher death risk compared with nonusers. They also had a 35% higher risk of cancer.
The researchers estimated that sleeping pills are linked to up to a staggering 507,000 deaths each year.
It’s prudent to point out that prospective studies such as these cannot determine that sleep aids directly caused the dementia or death. Also, study critics point out that people who use sleep aids long term may be less healthy to begin with, which could contribute to increased risk.
Regardless, there are very real known risks with sleep aid drugs.
They can cause you to sleepwalk, sleep-eat, or even have sex while sleeping. And there have been cases of sleep-driving as well.
Benzodiazepines aren’t off the hook, either. They’ve been linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline, long-term memory storage, and injurious falls in the elderly. (3)
Also, they may not be helping you sleep as much as you think. One study found that people taking “benzos” overestimated the amount of sleep they were getting by about 72 minutes compared with what the EEG recordings showed. Then when the benzos were withdrawn, the study participants thought they were getting about an hour less sleep compared with what they were actually getting, indicating a psychological dependence.
Pharmacological sleep aids are best avoided if possible. But if you do need them, they are only meant to be used short term. (Though in the study from UC, even as few as 18 doses per year increased the mortality risk.) Long-term use carries the most risks.
And if you’re a woman, it’s important to know that you are taking the lowest dose possible. Women metabolize sleep medications slower than men, and the FDA recommends women take half the dose.
All types of sleeping pills can be addictive and habit-forming, as well. And all sleep aids carry the risk of a psychological dependence if you convince yourself you can’t sleep without them. And if you do decide to quit them, you can experience rebound insomnia that’s even worse than the sleep trouble you had to begin with. (4)
If you are experiencing sleeplessness, it’s always best to try natural options first. Good sleep hygiene is a must. Stick to an established bedtime routine. Stop looking at screens at least an hour before bed. Make your room dark and cool.
And keep an eye on your inbox, because we’re not done with sleep yet. We’ve been working on something special to help you fall asleep easily and stay asleep. Stay tuned!
To sleeping well,
View More Free Articles
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, The message has been received loud and clear: “Fat is BAD!” Conventional medicine has been preaching the anti-fat message for decades now. We’ve been told we should avoid it… That eating “too much” fat will make US fat… And that fat on our bodies triggers disease and death… Here’s the...
One day, we’ll look back at our discovery of the nervous system in our guts in much the same way as other giant leaps in medicine like germ theory, vaccinations, and antibiotics. Knowing it exists and how important it is has changed EVERYTHING. We now understand that the enteric nervous system, or our “second brain”...
Dear Living Well Daily Reader, One thing no one ever thinks to warn you about a cancer diagnosis is the RUSH. While you’re still trying to process the news that you have cancer, you’re already asked to make decisions about your treatments. You’re told there’s no time to waste. And warned delays could lead to...
“I’m diabetic and I don’t quite understand the differences in sugar. There’s sugar you make cookies with but also fruits have sugar. Can I have fruits even though they have sugar too?” – Annette, from Helen, GA Hi Annette, For something that seems so simple, sugar sure gets complicated very quickly. That table sugar you...
I’m not going to pull any punches here. Getting a prostate cancer diagnosis is downright terrifying. And that’s especially true because for YEARS there weren’t any remarkable advancements in the treatments for this cancer. Watchful waiting (active surveillance) was the best we could do for men with small tumors that didn’t appear aggressive. And for...
We’ve lived with COVID-19 for nearly three years now. That means we KNOW what it looks like, right? Wrong. The dominant COVID strain infecting people today doesn’t look exactly like the one that infected people last year. The virus is constantly changing. And so are the symptoms when you catch it. Different COVID strains appear...
My excellent editor told me the other day that she gave in and took some naproxen for her psoriatic arthritis pain. And she’s not alone. Occasionally even people who are passionate about natural medicine turn to over-the-counter or prescription drugs for pain relief. After all, joint pain can be downright debilitating. But before you reach...
People ask me all the time what I think about meat substitutes. My reply is simple: “They’re junk!” The labels claim that these fake meats are better for your health and the environment. But nothing could be further from the truth… If you’re a regular Living Well Daily reader, you know I’m constantly warning you...
Ask a group of middle-aged people about their biggest fear, and they will almost universally say, “losing their minds.” And I agree. The thought of my precious memories fading away is at the top of MY “no thanks” list. But just wanting your brain to be healthy isn’t enough. You have to work at protecting...
“What’s your take on the drugs for Alzheimer’s?” – Timothy, from Bel Air, MD Hi Timothy, Let me make it simple: They’re junk. You’ve seen the breathless headlines, I’m sure. After all, they’re almost impossible to ignore! They make exciting claims like “New breakthrough in Alzheimer’s Treatment Is a Game Changer!” or “FINALLY an Alzheimer’s...