UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 8:55am
WACO -- Since the 1980's prescription sleep aids have been helping millions get to sleep and stay asleep.
But a new study suggests its correlation with death may be enough to keep you counting sheep.
"There's this correlation but it's not cause and effect and that's the great weakness right now," Dr. Rodney Richie, a pulmonologist with Providence hospital said.
According to the British Medical Journal people taking prescription sleep aids like Ambien or Lunesta are 5 times more likely to die over a two and half year period. Heavy users were also more likely to develop cancer. But what the study can't detail is what the users die from.
"People who take sleeping pills are more likely to have other problems, both psychiatric as well as physical problems. But nobody yet has any idea why a sleeping pill would cause you to die," Dr. Richie said.
Despite the correlation doctors say if the need is there, sleeping pills can be helpful and healthy if not abused.
"Sleeping pills are very understandable in certain settings. But they're never meant to be permanent. So I think anybody who takes a sleeping pill every night, probably out to ask if that's a good idea, and it probably, usually isn't."
Doctors say don't quit your sleep aid cold turkey, but if you're one of the 60 million who filled a prescription sleep aid last year, there are a few things you can do and avoid, to help you get some sleep tonight.
"It's just called good sleep hygiene. Avoid caffeine, a nap--bad idea. It's good to have the bedroom dark and the bedroom is for sleep. If you want to watch TV go watch it in another room," Dr. Richie said.
Before quitting or changing a sleep aid be sure to consult your doctor.