Obesity significantly increases the risk of death tied to even occasional use of sleeping pills, new research shows.
The study, presented at a recent meeting organized by the American Heart Association, found obese people who take 18 or fewer sleeping pills in a year are twice as likely to die prematurely.
"Obese patients appear particularly vulnerable, perhaps through interaction with sleep apnea," said study co-author Dr. Daniel Kripke, a psychiatrist with Scripps Clinic's Viterbi Family Sleep Center in San Diego.
He noted that sleeping pills have been linked with more and longer pauses in breathing in people with sleep apnea.
Among obese patients, researchers found the use of sleeping pills caused about one extra death per year for every 100 people who were prescribed the medications. They also reported men who took sleeping pills were about twice as likely to die as women.
The findings were based on a Scripps Clinic-led study of almost 40,000 patients, which was initially previewed in the British Medical Journal Open. Researchers tracked the records of 10,531 sleeping pill users who were prescribed the medications for an average of 2.5 years between 2002 and 2006, and 23,674 others who were not prescribed the drugs.
The research involved the popularly prescribed medications zolpidem (Ambien) and temazepam (Restoril), Kripke said.
Funding for the study came from the Scripps Health Foundation and other philanthropic sources.