Do Sleeping Pills Cause Dementia?

Withdrawal Effects. Addiction. Daytime Impairment.

Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is critical to your health – but the side effects of sleeping pills may outweigh the benefits. Are you at risk?

  • Drowsiness the next day. You may not be safe to drive or operate machinery.
  • Clumsiness, drowsiness, and confusion at night (if you get up). These can occur, for example, if you have to get up at night to go to the toilet. You may fall over and injure yourself. Some people have fallen downstairs due to the drowsy effect of sleeping tablets. (Older people who take sleeping tablets have an increased risk of breaking their hip, as the result of a fall.)
  • Tolerance. With benzodiazepines and Z drug sleeping tablets (see below), if you take them each night, your body becomes used to them. This means that, in time, the usual dose has no effect. You then need a higher dose for it to work. In time, the higher dose does not work, and you need an even higher dose, and so on. It only takes between 3-14 days of continued use to become ‘tolerant’ to a benzodiazepine or Z drug sleeping tablet.
  • Dependence. Some people become dependent (addicted) to benzodiazepines or Z drugs. This means that withdrawal symptoms occur if the tablets are stopped suddenly. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, shaking, or just feeling awful.  source

Even after accounting for other things that are known to affect brain function, like age, living alone, depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes, researchers found that seniors who took benzodiazepines were about 60% more likely than those who didn’t to develop dementia. WebMD

The reports stem from the results of a French study that followed just over a thousand elderly adults (average age of 78) for 15 years. The participants were initially free from dementia but those who started taking benzodiazepines after the first three years of the study were 60% more likely to develop dementia than those who did not use the drugs. NHS.UK

Using sleeping pills over a long period of time is linked to an increased risk of developing dementia. In fact, older people who used Benzodiazepine showed an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Benzodiazepine use is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” lead researcher, Sophie Billioti de Gage of the University of Bordeaux, France, and colleagues wrote in the BMJ.

The Trouble With Sleeping Pills:

Can sleeping pills do more harm than good? Watch this provocative and informative video exploring the new class of “improved” sleeping pills. According to recent research by Daniel Kripke, M.D., professor of psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine, sleeping pills may increase depression and lead to a higher incidence of certain diseases. Sleeping pills may actually shorten people’s lives. Series: SIRA (Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging)

  • Sleeping pills only help people fall asleep about 11 or 13 minutes sooner
  • Sleeping people “forget” about trouble falling asleep
  • Higher risk of harm
    • more adverse effects than placebo
  • Unpublished, sponsored research bias.

The nature of the link between sleeping pill use and dementia is unclear. Perhaps Benzodiazepine has a side effect that causes an increased likelihood of developing dementia – or perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps people with a higher risk of developing dementia are more likely to suffer from insomnia.

“People with Alzheimer’s often have problems with sleeping or may experience changes in their sleep schedule. Scientists do not completely understand why these sleep disturbances occur. As with changes in memory and behavior, sleep changes somehow result from the impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain. When managing sleep changes, non-drug coping strategies should always be tried first … Â Many people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their sleep patterns. Scientists do not completely understand why this happens. As with changes in memory and behavior, sleep changes somehow result from the impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain.

Many older adults without dementia also notice changes in their sleep, but these disturbances occur more frequently and tend to be more severe in Alzheimer’s. There is evidence that sleep changes are more common in later stages of the disease, but some studies have also found them in early stages.”

Sleeping Problems In Older People

“Sleep disturbances are widespread among older adults. Degenerative neurologic disorders that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, exacerbate age-related changes in sleep, as do many common comorbid medical and psychiatric conditions. Medications used to treat chronic illness and insomnia have many side effects that can further disrupt sleep and place patients at risk for injury.

The causes of sleep disturbances in individuals with dementia are multifaceted, including the following: 1) physiologic changes related to the dementing illness and normal, œnonpathologic aging; 2) primary sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome; 3) medical and psychiatric morbidity; 4) medication side effects; 5) environmental and behavioral factors, including poor sleep hygiene and 5) some combination of the above [2]. Although dementia’s progression is largely irreversible, several measures that can improve sleep in individuals with dementia may ease the caregiver burden and reduce the risk of premature institutionalization. In this article, we describe the neuropathology of sleep, the sleep changes associated with the most common dementia subtypes, and evidence-based treatment options.”  Current Treatments for Sleep Disturbances in Individuals With Dementia

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia refers to a sleep disorder with difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. People with insomnia can have trouble falling asleep, may awaken frequently during the night and/or have trouble going back to sleep, or wake up early in the morning. Insomnia can be due to a number of different reasons, such as other sleep disorders (e.g., breathing-related problems, nightmares), medications, mood disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety), motor features of parkinsonism (e.g., stiffness, tremors, decreased ability to move in bed), or interferences in a normal, regular sleep schedule (e.g., day-night reversal, excessive daytime sleepiness). – See more at:

Photo credit: Jonathan Silverberg / Foter / CC BY

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