A recent study shows a link between regular use of sleeping pills and a higher risk of dementia in white people. According to the observational study published in January 2023 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, older adults who take benzodiazepines to treat chronic insomnia, the most commonly used drugs for sleep disorders, would have a 79% increased risk of developing a form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, but the mechanisms involved in this relationship need to be specifically researched.
The American researchers analyzed the consumption of sleeping pills by 3,068 adults who had not developed dementia and were not living in a nursing home, with an average age of 74 years, more than 50% being women, 42% being black adults and 58% being white adults. Monitoring of sleeping pill use was recorded three times over a 10-year period and offered five response categories, never, rarely, sometimes, often, and almost always, corresponding to sleeping pill use ranging from once a month or less for rarely to between sixteen and thirty times a month for almost always.
The association between sleeping pill use and dementia was observed for people who used sleeping pills often, i.e., five or more times per month, compared with people who used them less often. The study also looked at the possibility of developing dementia based on ethnicity and found that while white people were twice as likely to take benzodiazepines, all the people who developed dementia were in that ethnic category as opposed to black people who did not.
One of the study’s co-authors, Yue Leng, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, says patients with poor sleep should hesitate before deciding to take sleeping pills. She says the first step is to determine the type of sleep problem patients have. If insomnia is diagnosed, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia is the first-line treatment. If treatment is to be used, melatonin may be a safer option, but researchers need more evidence to understand its long-term impact on health.