New Sleep Studies Part 3: COPD, Sleep, and Benzodiazepines


My most recent blogs have been on new sleep studies – I’ve been spending some time exploring the most recent research and I’d like to share what I’ve been learning with my readers. The work that’s being published these days has major implications for people’s overall health. Today, I’d like to share a study with you that addresses a common class of sleep drugs and their side effects for patients with COPD. That sounds a little obtuse, but the point is: The use of sleep aids can have impacts on human health that go beyond sleep. Here’s what the study found, and why we should be concerned.

Sleep, Mood, and COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is most commonly caused by smoking in North America, according to Medical News Today. The disease, also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, causes long-term problems with respiration and leaves patients open to repeated infections that can eventually lead to major complications or death.

Patients with COPD frequently experience anxiety, depression, or insomnia – often as a result of fears about their health and their ability to breathe. When you don’t know whether you’ll be able to draw the next breath comfortably, anxiety is always looking over your shoulder.

Anxiety and Benzodiazepines in COPD

Doctors prescribe many of these patients drugs to help them sleep and ease their anxiety. A commonly prescribed sleep aid that also treats symptoms of depression and anxiety is a class of drugs called benzodiazepines – but this class of drugs isn’t recommended for treatment in COPD cases, according to American Thoracic Society – European Respiratory Society Gudelines. Benzodiazepines can cause respiratory problems, reducing oxygen levels and making it harder to breathe, especially at night – and that makes the root cause of anxiety worse instead of better.

How Often Are Benzodiazepines Used Anyway?

A new sleep study, published early this month in Drugs and Aging, examined the uses of benzodiazepines among doctors treating patients with COPD. The study produced some disturbing results:

  • Of 100,000 COPD patients examined, more than a third were prescribed COPD.
  • The drug was 40 percent more common among patients with more severe COPD.
  • Benzodiazepines were most commonly dispensed to patients during flare-ups of the disease, when they were already having more trouble breathing.

Dr. Nicholas Vozoris, lead author of the study, said in a statement that “these findings… are concerning because they tell us that the patients most at risk to be affected by the adverse effects of this drug are the same ones that are using it with the most frequency.” These people may be facing harm from the very drugs prescribed to help them.

Do you use sleep aids? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Author Bio: +Michelle Gordon is a sleep expert who researches and writes about sleep and health, and is an online publisher for the latex mattress specialist