Sleep Rx Raises Risk of Falling

Taking sleep medications while in the hospital increases risk of falling

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

(RxWiki News) Doctors often give medications like Ambien to help people sleep while they are in the hospital. But taking any sleep enhancement product may raise the risk of falling while walking around, which can lead to injury.

Mayo Clinic researchers compared people who took Ambien during their hospital stay to those who did not. They found that people taking Ambien were more than four times more likely to have a fall while in the hospital.

These researchers believe the link between sleep medications and falling was strong, even when the researchers considered other risk factors – like age and how long people stayed in the hospital.

"Discuss your sleep habits with a doctor."

The Mayo Clinic researchers looked at 4,962 people who took Ambien (zolpidem) while staying in the hospital. They compared the fall rate with 11,358 people who stayed in the hospital and did not take Ambien.

They found that more than 3 percent of people taking Ambien had a fall while in the hospital. This is compared to only 0.7 percent of people not taking the drug that fell.

The researchers also found that 39 percent of all people admitted to the hospital were given a prescription for Ambien. However, of those patients, only about 30 percent actually took the drug.

The authors concluded that finding a balance between good sleep and safety is critical.

The Clinic's Chief Patient Safety Officer, Dr. Timothy I. Morgenthaler, said in a recent press release that the widespread use of Ambien in hospitals is a concern given these findings.

He said that the Mayo Clinic plans to start adding non-drug sleep treatments to offset the risk of falling for some patients. 

This study only looked at hospital patients in the Mayo Clinic during 2010. Fall rates and their connection to Ambien may vary in other hospitals.

This study was published November 19 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. Funding information and conflicts of interest were not available.

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Review Date: 
November 17, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013