Insomnia, Dementia and Sleep Meds

Dementia risk may be increased after long term use of sleep drugs to treat insomnia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) People with sleep problems may be more likely to develop dementia. A recent study found that taking a sleep med for a long time ups the risk.

Researchers found that older people who took at least 30 doses a year of sleep drugs, called hypnotics, were twice as likely to develop dementia.

These authors concluded that hypnotics should be used at the lowest dose possible for people over age 50 because there may be a risk of dementia.

"Talk to your doctor about sleep problems."

The authors, led by Pin-Liang Chen, Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering at the National Taiwan University, along with researchers at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, wanted to see how sleep meds were related to dementia.

They found people over age 50 who were diagnosed with insomnia through medical records. Then they tracked them for three years to see if they developed dementia.

In the records, they found 5693 patients with insomnia and 28,465 without insomnia in the same age range. Over the three year period, 220 (3.86 percent) of people with insomnia developed dementia.

Those who were long-term users of hypnotics were more than twice as likely to develop dementia. A long-term user was defined as being prescribed at least 30 daily doses during each year of the study. So those people took a sleep aid at least 30 days of the year.

With higher doses of the hypnotic drug came slightly higher risk of dementia.

People with long-term insomnia were also more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and history of stroke. These are all also risk factors for dementia.

So it is not clear if the insomnia, the hypnotic medications or the other conditions are the cause of the higher risk.

dailyRx News spoke with William Kohler, MD, a sleep specialist, about the results of this study.

He said, ““This is a very important study because of the large size of the study. And it does show an association between insomnia, treatment of insomnia, and dementia. However, it does not clearly delineate a cause and effect. It does show a definite association.”

“Whenever you consider treating a patient it would be best to treat with behavioral techniques if that will control the symptoms. Medication should be a secondary consideration.”

“No matter how benign the medication appears to be, untoward side effects can always occur. In this particular case, a definite association between the hypnotics and dementia has been found even though not a clear cut causal effect.”

This study was published November 7 in PLoS One. The study was funded by the Taiwan National Science Council, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, the Brain Research Center, National Yang-Ming University and the Ministry of Education “Aim for the Top” University Plan.

The authors report no financial conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 16, 2012
Last Updated:
November 21, 2012