A recent US study of over 30,000 patients has indicated that the death risk of users of sleeping pills such as Temazepam may be four times higher than similar patients who do not use the drugs.
However, the research still indicates that the death risk is relatively low and there is a lack of any proof that the pills cause any harm.
There are millions of sleeping pill prescriptions in the UK every year and whilst NHS guidelines do not show a link to an increased risk of death, they do warn against regularly using them, as patients can build up a resistance to the drug.
The MHRA have indicated that they would review their guidance in light of the new evidence.
The research showed that out of a 10,000 patient sample, where patients took sleeping pills over a two and a half year period, one in 16 patients died. However, a 23,000 patient sample, where no sleeping pills were taken over the same period, 1 in 80 patients died. The research also accounted for other health conditions.
The researchers have indicated that the reason for the increased death risk is unclear. It is suggested that sleeping pills may make people more likely to suffer a fall, or they could alter breathing patterns or have a higher risk of suicide.
A spokesperson from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “This is an important study and although it is unlikely to radically change prescribing in the immediate term, it should raise awareness and remind both patients and prescribers to the potential risks of sedative use for insomnia.”