Overweight Insomniacs Take Note

Sleeping pill association with increased risk of death greater for obese patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One more reason for obese patients to lose weight: those using sleeping pills have an even greater risk of death than non-overweight patients using the pills.

The increased risk of death shown to be associated with sleeping pills appears to be compounded by obesity, according to a study by one of the same authors whose findings a few weeks ago revealed an increased risk of death among sleeping pill users.

"Ask your doctor about natural treatments to address insomnia."

Robert Langer, M.D., M.P.H. an family doctor and epidemiologist with the Jackson Hole Center for Preventive Medicine, and Daniel Kripke, M.D., a psychiatrist with Scripps Clinic's Viterbi Family Sleep Center is San Diego, published a study a few weeks ago showing an associated between higher likelihood of death and the use of sleeping pills.

Their findings did not establish that sleeping pills cause an increase in the risk of dying. While the association they found held true after controlling for age, gender, weight, lifestyle, ethnicity and previously diagnosed cancer, it did not account for other health problems people using sleeping pills may be more likely to have.

Their more recent findings related to the extent to which obesity increases the risk association they found, using analysis of the same data set from their previous study.

They compared 10,529 patients, who were 54 years old on average and taking hypnotic prescriptions, with 23,676 people not taking hypnotic prescriptions but whose demographics matched the test group.

Langer and Kripke tracked the people for an average of two and a half years per person during the period of January 2002 through January 2007. They adjusted their findings for age, gender, smoking status, weight, ethnicity, marriage status, alcohol use and previous cancer diagnosis.

Their current findings show that obese patients, with an average body mass index of 38.8, had approximately eight times the risk of death even among those prescribed the smallest amount of pills, up to 18 doses a year.

Patients who took 132 or more doses each year had a nine times greater risk of death.

The medications studied in their research included barbiturates, sedative antihistamines like Benadryl, benzodiazepines like Restoril (temazepam) and non-benzodiazepines, like Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Sonata (zaleplon).

However, the results are observational, not part of a controlled experiment, so the results cannot establish causation between the sleeping pills and a higher likelihood of dying.

"It is important to note that our results are based on observational data, so even though we did everything we could to ensure their validity, it's still possible that other factors explain the associations," said co-author Lawrence E. Kline, D.O., the medical director of the Viterbi Family Sleep Center.

The Viterbi Family Sleep Center is known for focusing on cognitive therapy as a way to treat sleeping problems. Kripke also said that a better way to treat insomnia may be to treat any underlying problems that are causing the insomnia, such as depression.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. The study was funded by the Scripps Health Foundation and "other philanthropic sources" not provided.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 19, 2012
Last Updated:
March 20, 2012