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Insomnia and Anxiety Medications Linked to Increased Mortality

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Medications taken for insomnia and anxiety are now linked to increased mortality. Results of an analysis found a 36 percent increased chance of dying among individuals who use sleeping medications and anti-anxiety drugs, found in a twelve year study.

The findings come from a study that followed 14,000 Canadians in the Statistics Canada's National Population Health Survey from 1994 and 2007. During the survey, participants who used drugs for insomnia or anxiety were noted to have a thirty-six percent higher chance of dying after adjusting for other personal factors, including depression, tobacco and alcohol use, other health issues and activity levels.

The researchers say there are several reasons that sleeping pills and medicines to treat anxiety might do more harm than good.

How Sleeping Pills and Anxiety Meds Increase Risk of Dying

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Medicines used for insomnia decrease reaction time and alertness and lead to lack of coordination, potentially leading to falls and other mishaps. Impaired judgment could also increase the chances of suicide among depressed patients.

Geneviève Belleville, a professor at Université Laval's School of Psychology where the study was conducted says, "These medications aren't candy, and taking them is far from harmless." Another theory is that insomnia drugs and anxiolytics lead to respiratory depression, aggravating existing breathing problems that can lead to death.

Given the findings, Belleville suggests short-term use of drugs for insomnia and anxiety. Behavioral and cognitive therapy are shown to treat anxiety and sleep disorders and should be offered to patients by physicians. "Combining a pharmacological approach in the short term with psychological treatment is a promising strategy for reducing anxiety and promoting sleep."

Can J Psychiatry. 2010;55(9):558–567



This study was conducted in a country where people have access to treatment options, like psychotherapy. In America, many people don't have the option to pay $100 per hour to get treated for the actual cause of the anxiety and instead opt for the $10 prescription for Xanax.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?? Is it not likely that the causes of the insomnia and anxiety, not the medications, are linked to increased mortality?
They say the research adjusted for those other factors.