Sleeping pills can increase your risk of dementia

Sleeping pills alarm clock

A study found that sleeping pills increase the risk of dementia in older Caucasians who don’t live in nursing homes. The type and amount of medication may also play a role in increasing risk. The study followed about 3,000 seniors with an average age of 74 over a nine-year period, with 42% being black and 58% being white.

Do sleeping pills increase your risk of dementia?

A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco shows that benzos, antidepressants and Ambien can impact cognition.

A new scientific study shows that sleeping pills increase the risk of dementia in white people. But the type and amount of medication may be factors explaining the higher risk.

It follows previous work which shows that blacks have a higher probability than whites of developing

During the study, 20% developed dementia. White participants who “often” or “almost always” took sleeping pills were 79% more likely to develop dementia than those who “never” or “rarely” used them. Among black participants – whose use of sleep aids was significantly lower – frequent users had a similar likelihood of developing dementia as those who abstained or rarely used the drugs.

High-income blacks may be less likely to get dementia

“The differences can be attributed to socioeconomic status,” said first author Yue Leng, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCSF and the Weill Institute for Neuroscience. “Black participants who have access to sleeping pills might be a select group with high socioeconomic status and, therefore, greater cognitive reserve, making them less susceptible to dementia.

“It’s also possible that some sleeping pills have been associated with a higher risk of dementia than others.”

The researchers found that whites, at 7.7%, were three times more likely than blacks, at 2.7%, to take sleeping pills often, five to 15 times a month, or almost always, 16 times per month every day. Whites were almost twice as likely to use benzodiazepines, such as Halcion, Dalmane and Restoril, prescribed for chronic insomnia.

Whites were also 10 times more likely to take trazodone, an antidepressant known by the trade names Desyrel and Oleptro, which can also be prescribed as a sleep aid. And they were more than seven times more likely to take “Z-drugs,” such as Ambien, a so-called sedative-hypnotic.

While future studies may shed some light on the cognitive risks or benefits of sleeping pills and the role race may play, patients with sleep disorders should hesitate before considering medication, Leng said.

“The first step is to determine what kind of sleep problems patients are facing. A sleep test may be needed if sleep apnea is a possibility,” she said. “If insomnia is diagnosed, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) is the first-line treatment. If medication is to be used, melatonin might be a safer option, but we need more evidence to understand its long-term impact on health.

Reference: “Race Differences in the Association Between Sleep Medication Use and Risk of Dementia” by Yue Leng, Katie L. Stone and Kristine Yaffe, January 31, 2023, Alzheimer’s Disease Journal.
DOI: 10.3233/JAD-221006

The lead author is Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Neurology, and Epidemiology at UCSF. Co-author is Katie L. Stone, PhD, Department of Research Institute, California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco.

The research was supported by the UCSF Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, funded by the National Institute on Aging, P30 AG044281. Dr. Yue Leng is supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), R00 AG056598. Authors’ statements are available online.

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