Popular Insomnia Drugs Put You At Risk for Dementia

We’ve all experienced the frustration of longing for sleep that just won’t come. For insomnia sufferers, that frustration is nearly constant, leading many to turn to drug treatments. The same pills that can help to summon sleep, however, can also increase your likelihood of developing dementia in the future. While medication can seem like an easy solution, working with your body to naturally improve your sleep will result in better rest with none of the adverse effects.woman yawning in her bathroom as she puts tooth past on her toothbrush

Over-the-Counter Medications Can Cause Serious Problems

Recent studies reveal a connection between anticholinergic medications and dementia. This class of medications, which includes popular sleep aids, allergy medications, flu symptoms relievers, and other drugs, is available over-the-counter or by prescription for a number of chronic conditions. The list of common anticholinergic medications includes…

  • Benadryl
  • Tylenol PM
  • Advil PM
  • Dimetapp
  • Dramamine
  • Unisom
  • Paxil
  • Demerol

Researchers have found that anticholinergic drugs can cause declines in memory and increased cognitive impairment.

The Link Between Sleeping Aids and Dementia

Shelley Gray, a pharmacist at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, led one of the key studies that helped to confirm the connection between anticholinergic drugs and dementia. Gray and her team tracked all the drugs taken by close to 3,500 men and women enrolled in a long-term study called Adult Changes in Thought (ACT). Theirs was the first study to include over-the-counter medications, including popular sleeping aids, in addition to prescription drugs.

The health of participants was monitored for an average of seven years, during which time 800 of the individuals followed by Gray and her team developed dementia. After analyzing the use of anticholinergic drugs, the team found that they were associated with a 54% higher risk of dementia.

Brain Scans Show Drugs Led to Physical Changes

A separate study published in JAMA Neurology used brain scans to learn more about how anticholinergic drugs alter the brain. Dr. Alexandra Sowa, an internist and clinical instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College, spoke to CBS News about the study, and stated that the scans showed physical changes to the brains of patients taking anticholinergic medications.

man and woman sleeping in a bed with white beddingFor the study, researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine assessed the association between anticholinergic medication use, cognition, and brain metabolism and atrophy in cognitively normal older adults. Using data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and the Indiana Memory and Aging Study (IMAS), they found an association between the use of anticholinergic drugs and brain atrophy, dysfunction, and clinical decline. The researchers recommended that the use of anticholinergic medications “be discouraged if alternative therapies are available.”

Natural Ways to Sleep More Easily

Fortunately, alternative treatments for insomnia abound. An obvious first step is to examine your caffeine intake, If you’re having difficulty sleeping, try drinking less coffee, or at least curtailing consumption in the evening. Experts also recommend increasing your intake of magnesium, which is known as the relaxation mineral. High-magnesium foods include…

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oats

Upping your physical activity can also help you fall asleep more easily, as turning off the television, computer, and other brightly-lit screens in the hours leading up to bedtime.