The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do Sleeping Pills Increase the Risk of Dementia?

One of the great health worries of our modern times is Alzheimer's disease. Many think it's genetic, but what if some sleeping pills contribute to dementia?

Although heart disease and cancer remain our big killers, nothing spells dread more than a diagnosis of dementia. Losing the ability to think, remember or function is devastating to the individual as well as to friends and family. That’s why this reader’s question about sleeping pills is so poignant:

Q. I saw a physician’s assistant the other day for depression, insomnia and anxiety. Several years ago a doctor prescribed Ativan and Ambien (and later Lunesta).

At the time he also had me on an antidepressant medication that I later weaned off. I may take an Ativan once during the week and a Lunesta one weekend night, just to help me catch up on sleep.

Sleeping Pills and Alzheimer’s:

This PA refused to prescribe zolpidem (Ambien) or eszopiclone (Lunesta) because studies have linked those drugs to Alzheimer’s. She said that even the few pills I take could put me at risk.

Instead she gave me a prescription for suvorexant (Belsomra). My doctor gave me a sample when it first came out and I didn’t find it helpful. I’ve also read that it hasn’t been shown to help people get to sleep much faster. In addition, it’s brand new and outrageously expensive. Would you be able to provide some insight on this drug?

A. People with insomnia are caught in a terrible bind. They are told that insufficient sleep may increase their risk for problems with memory and concentration. On the other hand, some studies have linked certain sleeping pills to dementia (BMJ, online, Sept. 27, 2012; Medicine, May, 2015), though this connection is controversial (BMJ, online, Feb. 2, 2016).

What’s the Story on Suvorexant (Belsomra)?

Belsomra is a pricey new prescription sleeping pill. According to Consumer Reports, people taking this drug fell asleep about six minutes faster, on average, than those taking placebo. They slept about 16 minutes longer, but were more likely to feel drowsy the next day.

To learn more about Belsomra and other sleep solutions, you may be interested in downloading our newly revised 16-page Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. You will learn inside details about other sleeping pills as well as non-drug solutions to insomnia.

A review of consumer complaints about Belsomra submitted to the FDA shows that they include ineffectiveness, disrupted sleep, agitation and next day confusion.

If you have tried Belsomra, please share your experience in the comment section below and let us know how it has worked for you. If you have come up with another solution for insomnia please share your story. And consider our newly revised 16-page Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Tips for beating insomnia: foods to avoid, foods that help, herbal remedies, sleeping pills. Our online guide includes drugs that may cause insomnia. Learn about the latest medication, Belsomra.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
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I had severe PTSD due to years of being physically, mentally and sexually abused as a child.
Had gone to individual and group counseling. My sleep patterns were bad since I had nightmares and night terrors. The counselor suggested I speak to my MD. He prescribed Ambient, anti-depressants, and Xanax for my anxiety. This was 20 years ago. I am still on Ambien and my antidepressants. I weaned myself off the Xanax, and it was horrible but managed to stop.

Current doctor was trying to get me off Ambien by giving me other medications. None of them worked. I went without sleep for days. It was horrible!! Tried everything but nothing worked. Finally convinced my doctor to give me back the Ambien. Reading about Ambien and the connection to Alz and dementia, I have to take my chances. Without Ambien those days it felt like I was literally going crazy, and my depression worsened. I felt hopeless :( !! I have to live whatever life I have. Praying that the good Lord has mercy on me, and I won’t get Alz or dementia.

I have severe insomnia due to PTSD. I have been taking a variety of sleeping pills and wanted to try Belsomra as I do feel groggy in the morning with the Triazolam. Well, after a few minutes, I felt like I was drowning in a coma! It was scary. I ended up in the ER. Belsomra is not for me! Scary experience!

I’ve been on Zoloft (50mg) and Ambien (12.5mg) for over 10 years and they work great, but I’d like to know why I can’t fall asleep and stay asleep. My chronic insomnia started with the onset of depression. At first I was prescribed Trazadone and it worked and then I was prescribed Ambien.

I’ve tried skipping the Ambien many times and each time I had a completely sleepless night. Last month I decided to taper off it altogether and have been suffering from chronic insomnia ever since. Finally I went back to the doctor and was given samples of Belsomra (20mg) and took my first pill last night. I woke up repeatedly, as always, and this morning feel dopey. It feels like I took melatonin or Benadryl, which I can’t tolerate, so I’m thinking I want my Ambien back. My mother died of Alzheimer’s at 75 years old and she never took any depression medication or sleep aid.

I never had any side effects with Ambien and at this point, after experiencing an increase in my depression and weight gain due to this chronic insomnia, I want my life back and will take my chances with the Ambien. My insurance doesn’t cover a sleep study and doctors now tend to ask the patient what they want rather than take the time to sit down and discuss the issue and treatment – in and out in 15 minutes or less. The new doctor I went to yesterday never even told me about Belsomra!

I had to read about it and the side effects on my own. What I want is to not have to be on the hook to any doctor for a prescription because at this point I don’t really want anything to do with them. I go in to discuss my insomnia and she’s more concerned with whether I’ve had a colonoscopy!

I take 1/2 of a 25mg Doxylamine succinate (Costco “Sleep Aid”, like Unisom) if I need to catch up on sleep. Take by 9:30 pm if bedtime around 11:00 or you may be sleepy in the morning. I quit Benedryl even for hay fever due to possible side effects mentioned above. I only drink decaf coffee. Chocolate (especially dark) after5:00 or any cola drink will affect sleep also. Costco has Natrol Melatonin that dissolves under the tongue for fast action.

Just recently I discovered that adding a blue light filter to my computer has utterly changed my sleep problems! I realized that my sleeplessness dated back to the mid-90’s when I first started using a bright computer screen. It’s a program you put on your computer, that adjusts the light for the time of day.

Be careful when you take our thyroid pill. I had been taking it at 4 am and then trying to go back to sleep.

Make sure you are warm enough. I find that my upper body gets chilled during the night, and a sweater, along with melatonin puts me immediately back to sleep.

Your info on sleeping pills is excellent, but I would like to know if the Melatonin I take most nights can be harmful. It works great and is cheap. Can anyone help me on this?

Elaine North Carolina April 6,2016 11:27PM
I have found Melatonin and a cup of hot tea helps me to go to sleep and stay asleep
with no problem. It helps to turn your troubles over to God when you go to sleep. He’ll worry about them for you.

I watch my diet and eat healthy. One cup of coffee in the morning. And I get lots of exercise. I don’t take any prescription drugs. I just want to sleep past 3 am! I have tried a prescription drug called Temazepam. This is the generic drug for Restoril to help with sleep disorders. Generic drugs have different side effects then the brand name because of the fillers that are used. I tried the lowest miligram which was 15 mg. a lower mg. was ridiculously expensive and my insurance would not pay for it. I pay under 10 dollars for the 15 mg. for a 30 day supply. It did work well. But I was feeling anxious during the day so decided to stop taking them. I definitely feel better. Is it coincidental? Maybe. But all drugs have side effects whether you feel them or not.

I recently tried Belsomra and was very disappointed. After reading up on it I even tried a double dose but to no avail. No side effects to speak of but no sleep either. I am in my mid fifties and have suffered from insomnia for over twenty years. Ambien has pretty much been a Godsend for me. I always get at least 5-6 hours of good sleep and I have never experienced any of the nasty side effects that we have all read about. I wish it worked this well for everyone because I personally know how important a good nights sleep is.

Sometimes I take 1/2 of a 5 mg Ambien (about 4 times a month) but realized I have some depression and feel weird for about two days after. I now use ‘white noise’ which is very effective. I have a CD or a small transister radio that I keep by my bedside and if I have difficulty sleeping I turn it on very low and am asleep within 10 minutes!

According to Consumer Reports, people taking this drug fell asleep about six minutes faster, on average, than those taking placebo.
SIX MINUTES FASTER THAN PLACEBO!!!!! taking this drug to achieve that “benefit” is foolish indeed.

I’ve always slept poorly because of a basically overactive brain; I’ve got some bipolar tendencies though not full bipolar, and I take no Rx meds. I’m constantly on the lookout for stuff to help me sleep. For the last year or so a combo of melatonin and some sleep herbs like valerian did the trick, but now that combo isn’t working as well as it used to. I prefer homeopathics but have had spotty success with those. I’ve found that ordinary OTC sleeping meds with diphenhydramine work very well but I’ve heard bad things about the diphenhydramine; I think it causes the same problems as the Rx meds, i.e., memory problems and general cognitive decline, but I’m fuzzy on this. I’d love for PP to do another article on OTC sleepers and the associated risks.

My naturopath helped me to figure out a sleep solution that works like a charm and has done so for years with no side effects. I take 5htp, cal/mag and glycine in the early evening and spray melatonin a half hour before bedtime. I sleep soundly all night. Wishing everyone the best of health.

I had hoped to get off Xanax by taking Belsomra, but it was ineffective and caused frightening mental problems.

About 6-7 years ago a sleep specialist MD gave me some Ambien.
I felt like I had not slept in a week or two and it did not keep me asleep.

I was having frequent bouts of rapid atrial fibrillation (overdosed on thyroid medication) and spent a total of 11 times in the ER (3 different hospitals in the province) hooked up to a Digoxin drip and all the monitoring machines. I was already stressed by being so hyperthyroid which my doc interpreted as panic attacks, although each time the docs in the ER said it wasn’t that, and they had all the bloodwork to show my thyroid levels.

I found the ER visits very stressful, and whenever I was there, they gave me Ativan to help me relax. Then they gave me a prescription. That was years ago, and I would give anything to get off Ativan. Now I’m worried about my memory, because I am struggling, and it’s so embarrassing to not find the words I need when I need them. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you in advance.

I take only one fourth of an Ambien. I have seen success with this. I usually don’t take it as soon as I go to bed as it only lasts me abut six hours. So I may toss, turn or doze off until about midnight. Then I take one fourth tablet of a 10 mg dose, and it usually holds me about six hours.

You may need to cut down slowly to adapt, but anything less is to your advantage.

I refuse to take sleeping pills or any drug that causes dementia. I have a lot of pain and sleep and staying asleep is difficult, so I learned meditation and how to put myself into a trance, self hypnosis, to go right to sleep and do it again if I wake during the night.

Self hypnosis is a form of deep relaxation that is very beneficial not only for sleep but to handle stress. It is much better than pills. It takes time and patience, but it is effective. And you wake refreshed. A psychologist who knows how to teach self-hypnosis can teach you. If no psychologist is available, there are self-hypnosis CDs available on Amazon.

I learned years ago from a behavioral psychologist still in private practice and teaching at the Univ. of Arizona in Tucson. He explained it only takes ONE session to learn and he records it for the patient to have at home to go into trance. He believed in the one session cure, and no honest doctor will keep you coming back again and again for self hypnosis.

I feel that the best sleep assist is a good sleep routine. Stop all electronic device use an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeine beverages. Stay in a dimly lit room for the hour before bed. Another interesting activity that I have recommended for some of patients (I am a psychologist) is to close your eyes and check your eyelids for light leaks. Light leaks through eyelids are rare. However, the eye movements involved entrain the brain toward REM sleep, and cause you to fall asleep.

I have been practicing yoga for five years now and learning more and more about breathing practices. Focusing on deep and even breathing–especially when I can’t sleep–works like a sleeping pill for me.

I take Xanax and I am very worried about the side affects.
They work for the panic attacks I have especially after a nightmare
with my heart racing.
The link to Alzheimers scares me, I have tried self help but none seems to help.
I have been taking them for years in low doses and my doctor want’s me off them.

I found myself missing a word here or there and other slight differences in my memory. With family encouragement I underwent a whole battery of tests including cat scans,Mri, erg,etc. I am a physically well senior who walks 5-6 miles a day. I originally said I took no meds except eye drops for glaucoma but when questioned further added that I took Tylenol pm for many years in order to stay asleep for more than 4 hours. The neurologist told me to stop it immediately because Benadryl ca cause these symptoms in people 65 and older. I did as they told me and had the verbal tests repeated in 6 weeks and my tests were 100 percent improved. I then was back to poor sleeping but started taking melatonin. It took a little Tim and experimenting with dose but it works. I found chewable gel caps work for me versus pills. I am back to myself and sleep at least 6 hours a night. It is the Benadryl in all the pm pills that is the culprit for people over 65.

My functional doctor gave me Kavinase PM and it has worked miraculously for over two months. I have never taken a prescription sleep medicine but I have tried probably every other kind of sleep aid there is. Many things worked but only for a few weeks. I would wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes after only 3 or 4 hours, and usually couldn’t go back to sleep. I was a mess. With Kavinase PM I often sleep through the night, and if I do wake up I go right back to sleep. I feel great the next day. I am desperately hoping this medicine keeps on working forever.

How long on the average does it take for side effects from statins, and even Red Yeast Rice to go away? Will they go away ?

Try taking 200 mg of Ubiquinol (CoQ10) daily. It may reduce the time it takes for side effects to stop. It is good for you regardless.

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