Fact or Myth: Can OTC Sleep Aids Cause Cancer?

This is a fact.

Insomnia is on the rise, as evidenced by the estimated $7 billion in annual sales of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids. Tossing and turning during sleepless nights is never fun, and so it is understandable why so many reach for the bottle and the little blue pill that promises to bring deep, restful sleep. But do OTC sleep aids really guarantee a deep sleep, or are the promises empty of anything but adverse side effects and consequences?

According to research studies, OTC sleep aids help you fall asleep approximately 13 minutes faster than you would naturally, and only ensure a mere 11 minutes of extra sleep a day. What many people don’t realize is that the 11 minutes of extra zzzzs gained by sleep aid consumption can dramatically threaten our health and mortality.

As of January 2012, 22 out of 24 published studies attest to the mortality risks associated with sleeping pills: all of the patients taking sleeping pills died sooner than those who did not take a sleep aid. And new research now points to an alarming link between OTC sleep aid usage and cancer, especially cancer of the esophagus, lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate.

The study, published in the February 27, 2012 issue of BMJ Open, showed that people who took 18 or fewer sleeping pills per year were 3.5 times more likely to die than those who did not take a sleep aid. Translation: Just 1.5 sleeping pills per month can increase your risk of death by 360%! Patients who were prescribed 18 to 132 doses of OTC sleep aids per year increased their risk of death by 500%. That’s just 11 pills per month, or 1 pill every 3 days! Their risk of cancer increased by 35%.

In analyzing the results of the study, lead researcher, Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, says,

“We are not certain. But it looks like sleeping pills could be as risky as smoking cigarettes.”

The study followed more than 10,500 people for an average of 2.5 years between 2002 and 2007. Patients were prescribed sleeping pills, including benzodiazepines, such as Restori; non-benzodiazepines, such as Ambien, Intermezzo, Lunesta, and Sonata; barbiturates; and sedative antihistamines. Researchers compared these patients to a control group of 23,500 people of the same age, gender, lifestyle characteristics and health conditions, but who did not take OTC sleep aids.

Co-author Robert D. Langer explains,

“We tried every practical strategy to make these associations go away, thinking that they could be due to use by people with more health problems, but no matter what we did the associations with higher mortality held.”

Although the results apply to people of all ages and genders, scientists found that males ages 18-55 exhibited an even greater risk. OTC sleep aids Researchers concluded that OTC sleep aids are detrimental to your health and increase your risk of mortality by possibly causing cancer, heart disease and other chronic health issues.

In 1998 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made certain studies available for review on the Internet. An analysis of studies found that the newer OTC sleep aids on the market (Sonata, Luneste, Rozerem) all caused cancer in rats and mice. These OTC sleep aids also broke chromosomes, a chemical process that has been proven to promote cancer. Wanting FDA approval of their sleep aids for long-term consumption, pharmaceutical companies conducted long-term trials between 2005 and 2006.

The link between these OTC sleep aids and cancer cannot be ignored. According to FDA documents, 9 new skin cancers and 4 other cancers developed in individuals taking sleeping pills, whereas those taking a placebo, or sugar pill, developed no new cancers. To learn more about these FDA studies, visit the online services of the U.S Food & Drug Administration.

OTC medications containing acetaminophen (Tylenol-like pain relief drugs) are the #1 cause of liver failure! Other dangerous side effects of OTC sleep aids include:

    • Esophageal regurgitation that may cause cancer
    • Sleep apnea
    • Drug addiction, making the initial insomnia worse
    • Disturbed REM sleep and dreaming, a common cause of dementia in seniors
    • Weight gain – one individual reported gaining 100 pounds while taking OTC sleep aids!
    • Depression

If you are suffering from restless sleep or insomnia, consider alternatives to OTC sleep aids, such as behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be an even more effective remedy.

Learning relaxation techniques, implementing conscientious sleep habits, and even resetting your natural rhythm to mirror that of the rising and setting sun are safe and natural ways to encourage a restful night’s sleep.