In the September issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, a study was performed to assess the mortality risk associated with sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications. The study involved over 14,000 people aged 18 to 102 who participated in the National Population Health Survey in Canada between 1994 and 2007. Every two years, participants were asked if they used sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications in the past month.
The overall mortality rate for the entire population was 11.55%. In respondents who took sleeping pills or anti-anxiety pills, the rate was 15.56%. In respondents who said they did not take sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications, the mortality rate was 10.52%.
After controlling for other factors like alcohol and tobacco use, physical health, physical activity level, and the presence of depression, the mortality rate was still slightly higher in those participants who reported they took sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications.
The study authors proposed different explanations. Benzodiazepines like Valium could impair reaction time, coordination, alertness, and memory, which then could lead to falls and other accidents. Benzodiazepines could also depress the respiratory system, which could aggravate sleep-related breathing disorders.
Limitations of the study include the fact that medication use was assessed using only two questions. There was no control for the presence of anxiety disorders, whereas the study did control for depression. Also, self-reported data like this survey can introduce a number of biases.
The authors recommend that physicians consider alternative, non-pharmacological treatment of insomnia and anxiety, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy.