ACCORDING to a new study in the journal BMJ that has received wide media coverage, people who regularly took sleeping pills were nearly five times more likely to die over a two and a half year period than those who didn’t take them.
The recent study in BMJ about the dangers of sleep medications had methodological shortcomings: It compared a large group of people who had been prescribed sleep medication with a large group that had not, matching them in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index, smoking and drinking — but not in terms of how well they slept. Given that those taking the medications had more hypertension, heart failure, obesity, asthma and other health problems associated with poor sleep to begin with, it’s not surprising they had higher mortality rates.
The study in BMJ alludes to “the meager benefits” of sleep medications and the greater success of behavioral methods of dealing with insomnia, which include things like going to bed and getting up at set times and using the bed only for sleep. But such strategies are not as effective as is sometimes claimed: studies that demonstrate their efficacy tend to look at small numbers of carefully screened, self-selected and highly motivated subjects.