Sleeping pills are the handy, go-to method for those who are unable to go to sleep naturally. They can be easily purchased at the local pharmacy or supermarket and now pills are even available in herbal form, and so people readily take them to cure the odd bout of insomnia.
The researchers, writing in the journal BMJ Open, concluded: "As predicted, patients prescribed any hypnotic had substantially elevated hazards of dying compared to those prescribed no hypnotics." Studies have shown that this drug, whilst helpful in the moment, can cause long term effects to your body and can even result in mortality. In the UK alone one third of the population suffer from the problem of insomnia. Whilst this seems to be a relatively small statistic, the study points out those who are prescribed sleeping drugs are 4.6 times more likely to die during a two-and-a-half year period. This drug isn't a slow killer to the system; instead it acts quickly and presumably before those taking the drug are even able to notice it.
Seemingly, the higher the dose, the greater the risk, and greater the percentage of users the greater the threat as a whole. The experts at the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine in Wyoming and the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California, researched the risks of the drug. Their findings hypothesised that those who are ingesting 18 to 132 pills a year have a 4.4 times higher risk of dying, and people who are prescribed more than 132 pills a year have 5.3 times higher threat of death. In addition to this, effects were greatest amongst the 18-55 age groups, which seem to cover a large range of ages. This is the first time that sleeping pills have ever been viewed as a risk, and some are even claiming that it can cause cancer!
There were some 800,000 more sleeping pill prescriptions handed out in 2010/11 compared with 2007/08, according to NHS figures obtained by the Co-operative Pharmacy. The freedom of information request found that these drugs are costing the NHS £49.2 million a year, which is up from £42 million in the three previous years. The issue is probably even bigger than we thought, with more and more people becoming addicted to prescription sleeping pills and believing this to be the ultimate panacea for all their sleep woes. As a psychologist , I more than anyone, am aware of the real underlying issues that result in the inability to go to sleep or stay asleep , like stress, worry, anxiety, depression, illness, even our own attitudes about sleep. Not being able to get it and our beliefs about medication can all be linked to being a contributory factor to poor sleep habits. The question is, how do you change someone's mind about their insomnia when they believe that the pill they have been given is the answer, how do you go about tackling a problem when people need their sleep to function, hold down a job, keep the family together?
If that wasn't bad enough, from my own experience people are still resorting to giving their children medical sleeping aids. Parents are now able to go to the doctors and get Phenergan prescribed for their babies. If there are health risks involved for adults receiving sleeping pills, who knows what the risks are for infants? Instead of increasing the threats on the personal wellbeing of yourself or your child, perhaps the focus should be on behavioural practices, cognitive shifts and attitudinal changes . Substitute the medication for a sleep consultant trained in CBT and help both you and your child sleep in a positive and effective way, a method that holds no risk on health or mortality.
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