Prescription sleep medications may help you get more rest but can also be associated with an increased risk of dementia.
That’s the primary finding by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, who tracked about 3,000 older adults for almost a decade. Among that group, 20% developed dementia. White people who “often” or “almost always” took sleep medicine were 79% more likely to get dementia than those who never or rarely took sleep aids.
For Black participants, frequent sleep-aid users had similar chances of developing dementia compared with those who abstained or rarely took them. However, the researchers also noted that Black participants’ use of sleep aids was markedly lower than white participants.
White people were three times as likely to take sleep medications and were almost twice as likely to use prescription benzodiazepines [benzo-die-az-uh-peens] and 10 times as likely to use trazodone, a nonaddictive antidepressant often prescribed for insomnia.
What’s driving the apparent association between sleep aids and dementia? Researchers are still looking for answers to those questions, but they believe the type, quantity and frequency of sleep medications play a role.
The researchers say their findings suggest we probably ought to look for other options before jumping to sleep medications. A sleep study would be a good place to start. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is also an option. The hormone melatonin may be a safer option than prescription drugs — but consult a doctor first.
At bedtime, it may be wise to count sheep instead of prescription pills.