Warning: Sleep Medications May Increase Your Chances of Dementia

Alarm Clock Sleeping Pills

A study found that sleep medications increase the risk of dementia in white older adults who are not living in nursing homes. The type and amount of medication may also play a role in increasing the risk. The study followed approximately 3,000 older adults with an average age of 74 over a period of nine years, with 42% being black and 58% being white.

Do Sleep Medications Increase Your Chances of Dementia?

University of California, San Francisco-Led study shows benzos, antidepressants, and Ambien may impact cognition.

A new scientific study shows that sleep medications increase the risk of dementia in whites. But the type and quantity of the medication may be factors in explaining the higher risk.

It follows previous work that shows blacks have a higher likelihood than whites of developing Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, and that they have different risk factors and disease manifestation.

The final corrected draft of the study was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

In the study, approximately 3,000 older adults without dementia, who lived outside of nursing homes, were enrolled in the Health, Aging and Body Composition study and followed over an average duration of nine years. Their average age was 74; 42% were black and 58% were white.

During the study, 20% developed dementia. White participants who “often” or “almost always” took sleep medications had a 79% higher chance of developing dementia compared to those who “never” or “rarely” used them. Among black participants – whose consumption of sleep aids was markedly lower – frequent users had a similar likelihood of developing dementia than those who abstained or rarely used the medications.

Higher-Income Blacks May Be Less Likely to Get Dementia

“Differences may be attributed to socioeconomic status,” said first author Yue Leng, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “Black participants who have access to sleep medications might be a select group with high socioeconomic status and, thus, greater cognitive reserve, making them less susceptible to dementia.

“It’s also possible that some sleep medications were associated with a higher risk of dementia than others.”

The researchers found that whites, at 7.7%, were three times as likely as blacks, at 2.7%, to take sleep medications often, five to 15 times a month, or almost always, 16 times a month to daily. Whites were almost twice as likely to use benzodiazepines, like Halcion, Dalmane, and Restoril, prescribed for chronic insomnia.

Whites were also 10 times as likely to take trazodone, an antidepressant known by the trade names of Desyrel and Oleptro, which may also be prescribed as a sleep aid. And they were more than seven times as likely to take “Z-drugs,” such as Ambien, a so-called sedative-hypnotic.

While future studies may offer clarity on the cognitive risks or rewards of sleep medications and the role that race may play, patients with poor sleep should hesitate before considering medications, according to Leng.

“The first step is to determine what kind of sleep issues patients are dealing with. A sleep test may be required if sleep apnea is a possibility,” she said. “If insomnia is diagnosed, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) is the first-line treatment. If medication is to be used, melatonin might be a safer option, but we need more evidence to understand its long-term impact on health.”

Reference: “Race Differences in the Association Between Sleep Medication Use and Risk of Dementia” by Yue Leng, Katie L. Stone and Kristine Yaffe, 31 January 2023, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
DOI: 10.3233/JAD-221006

Senior author is Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the UCSF Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Neurology and Epidemiology. Co-author is Katie L. Stone, PhD, Department of Research Institute, California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco.

Research was supported by the UCSF Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, funded by National Institute on Aging, P30 AG044281. Dr. Yue Leng is supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), R00 AG056598. Authors’ disclosures are available online.

1 Comment on "Warning: Sleep Medications May Increase Your Chances of Dementia"

  1. “… 42% were black and 58% were white.”

    Where are the yellow, red and brown?

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.