Taking sleeping pills could have disastrous cognitive side effects

Science and Health

Sleeping pills are an effective tool for those who have trouble sleeping. New research, however, has shown that commonly-prescribed sleep aids could have negative cognitive effects later in life, which could cause some users to stop taking them. 

Scientists have recently discovered that common sleeping pills can significantly increase the risk of dementia. In their study, published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, they reported a 79% increase in the likelihood of developing dementia among regular sleeping pill users. 

The researchers from the University of California conducted the study with the goal of understanding the effects of sleeping pills on the cognition of adults. They wanted to quantify the relationship between sleep medication use and the risk of dementia over a 15-year period. 

They followed 3,068 adults without dementia living independently, who were enrolled in a health, aging and body composition study for nine years. The average age of participants was 74. Among the sleeping pills used by participants were Ambien as well as those in the benzodiazepine family like Dalmane, Halcion and Restoril. 

Sleeping pill prevalence and dementia in the United States

Based on the most recent available information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, about 8.4% of Americans took sleep medications every day or most days of the year 2020. Women were more likely to take sleeping pills than men – 10.2% of women reported taking sleeping pills compared to 6.6% of men. 

Sleeping (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

It is currently estimated that about 5.8 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to the CDC, 5.6 million of those are people aged 65 and older.