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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hypnotic drug risks of mortality, infection, depression, and cancer: but lack of benefit

  • Author(s): Kripke, Daniel
  • et al.

This is a review of hypnotic drug risks and benefits, reassessing and updating advice presented to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (United States FDA). Almost every month, new information appears about the risks of hypnotics (sleeping pills). This review includes new information on the growing USA overdose epidemic, eight new epidemiologic studies of hypnotics’ mortality not available for previous compilations, and new emphasis on risks of short-term hypnotic prescription. The most important risks of hypnotics include excess mortality, especially overdose deaths, quiet deaths at night, infections, cancer, depression and suicide, automobile crashes, falls, and other accidents, and hypnotic-withdrawal insomnia. The short-term use of one-two prescriptions is associated with greater risk per dose than long-term use. Hypnotics are usually prescribed without approved indication, most often with specific contraindications, but even when indicated, there is little or no benefit. The recommended doses objectively increase sleep little if at all, daytime performance is often made worse, not better, and the lack of general health benefits is commonly misrepresented in advertising. Treatments such as the cognitive behavioral treatment of insomnia and bright light treatment of circadian rhythm disorders might offer safer and more effective alternative approaches to insomnia.

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