A study published Tuesday by the BMJ Open linked prescription sleeping pills with a higher death risk in users – even casual users – than in non-users. Critics, including AASM President Nancy Collop, MD, were quick to caution physicians and patients about making any cause-and-effect conclusions from the study. “You cannot assume, just because you find this kind of association, that hypnotics are killing people,” Dr. Collop said. “People who go on sleeping pills are a sicker population. I know (this study) tried to control for that, but these people simply are not as healthy.”

The study extracted 10,529 longitudinal electronic health records for a one-to-two matched cohort survival analysis. The top third of sleeping-pill users had a 5.3-fnew higher death risk. They also had a 35 percent higher risk of cancer, the study found. Daniel Kripke, Robert Langer and Lawrence Kline authored the study. Dr. Kripke, the lead author, is emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and a researcher at Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center in La Jolla, Calif.