In the British Medical Journal is a study that has received a lot of attention in the press. In this study, the authors looked at over 200,000 patients in Geisenger's Health System, including those who did and did not use sleep aids. Their analyses showed that those that took any type of sleep aid had a significantly higher chance of dying compared to those who did not take sleep aids. And the data showed that the risk of dying was still higher in sleep aid users when controlling for underlying diseases known to increase death, like heart and lung disease. There was also an increased risk of cancer in those that took sleep aids compared to those that did not.
The researchers speculate that increased death rates may occur with sleep aid use because some sleeping pills are lethal if too much is taken at once or if combined with other drugs or alcohol. Some sleep aids increase risk of depression which could lead to suicides. Sleep aids, especially in the elderly, can increase risk of car crashes and falls. Some sleep aids can worsen underlying sleep apnea, which already has a higher mortality rate.