Sleeping pills don’t work and they can kill you

Sources of travel advice very frequently recommend the use of sleeping pills to grab sleep when travelling.  That is ill-advised of them because that is medical advice, not travel advice.  Our article How to sleep on board an aircraft conspicuously avoided this.

Our recommendation: go to a really good doctor who is well versed in the latest research.

Here is why.

First off, sleeping pills do not really work!

  • On average sleeping pills reduce the time taken to fall asleep by less than 13 minutes!
  • You only sleep 11 minutes longer than you would have without taking them.
  • For many people the quality of sleep obtained using sleeping pills is not satisfactory.

Source: 2007 NIH Study, quoted in New York Times “Sleep drugs found only mildly effective, but wildly popular

Next up: there are side-effects

  • There are side-effects, which include memory loss, dizziness, reduced cognitive capacity, being dozy the day after use, and rebound insomnia.
  • There are potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs, or alcohol.
  • Traveller’s amnesia.  Some passengers who have taken sleeping pills to cope with jet lag have got lost or forgotten where they were!

Finally, they may kill you, even when used for only a short period

  • Sleeping pill users have 3.6 times the risk of early death, even with fewer than 18 pills prescribed per year.  This also applies to new generation short-acting drugs like Eszopiclone, Zaleplon and Zolpidem.
  • Up to 35% greater risk of cancer.

Source: Kripke DF, Langer RD, Kline LE. Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJ Open 2012;2:e000850. doi

Get medical advice from doctors.  Get travel advice from DIY Travel Expert.

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