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Sleeping Pills Can Be Risky for the Elderly

Adults over 60 are advised to stay away from sedatives


Updated September 24, 2010

Older adults often complain of poor sleep and insomnia. Many seniors see their doctors with complaints of being unable to get to sleep and of poor quality of sleep (no long periods of sleep). While quality of life can be diminished with poor sleep, the best solution for seniors may not be a prescription for a sedative sleeping medication.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers looked at 24 studies carried out between 1966 and 2003 and found that the adverse effects of sedatives prescribed for sleep outweighed the positive effects they provided.

Side effects of these drugs can include dizziness, loss of balance, falls, and disorientation. These side effects can be intensified when other conditions such as poor eyesight, balance disorders and high blood pressure are also present. Falls are especially dangerous for seniors who suffer from osteoporosis, making them more prone to bone fractures from falls.

The authors caution that the overall risks much outweigh the benefits of these drugs. Other measures to ensure rest and good sleep quality should be the first choice in treating insomnia in the elderly.

Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

  • Establish a regular betime routine, and try to go to bed about the same time every night.
  • Drink some warm milk at bedtime.
  • Do not eat a heavy or spicy bedtime snack; it could be indigestion that is keeping you up.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages at bed time. While you may sleep, the quality of sleep may be poor.
  • Stay active and exercise, but avoid vigorous exercise right before bed.
  • If you get enough sleep but still feel tired you may want to check with your doctor to be checked for sleep apnea.
These tips should help you to sleep better and avoid the need for sedatives.


Glass J et al. "Sedative hypnotics in older people with insomnia: meta-analysis of risks and benefits." BMJ 2005;331:1169-1173.

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