It's insomnia, not sleeping pills, that increases the risk of falls among sleep-deprived seniors, a new study suggests.

The Study

The Study authors note that in many nursing homes in the United States, elderly residents who have insomnia often go untreated due to the common belief that the hypnotic class of sleeping pills-which include benzodiazepines, barbiturates and shorter-lasting, often-advertised sleep aids-increase the likelihood of falls and injuries.

However, a study of more than 34,000 Michigan nursing home residents older than age 65 found that patients who had untreated or partially treated insomnia were 90% more likely to fall within six months than those who did not have insomnia. In contrast, patients who were taking sleeping pills to treat their insomnia were only 29% more likely to fall than those who did not have insomnia.


"Many physicians assume that when an older patient has insomnia and is given a hypnotic drug to help induce and is given a hypnotic drug to help induce sleep, the drug will make the patient likely to fall and develop a hip fracture," says lead researcher Dr. Alon Avidan, a sleep specialist at the University of Michigan. "But our findings suggest that people whose insomnia is effectively treated are less likely to fall than untreated insomniacs."

"One study by itself isn't enough to eliminate current concerns about hypnotics and falls," says senior researcher Dr. Ronald Chervin, associate professor of neurology and director of the University's Sleep Disorders Center. "But many previous studies that raised these concerns did not look to see whether insomnia, rather than the drugs themselves, might be the problem. Our results should encourage older people and their caregivers to pay attention to insomnia, and to seek help for it," he concludes.

The National Sleep Foundation has information on sleep and aging at

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