Sleep medications boosts heart risk

One of the world's most common sleep medications could give you a heart attack -- and all it takes is four little pills.

Not four in a single night... not four in a week... and not even four per month.

Just four sleeping pills per year of the standard dose of zolpidem -- the main ingredient in sleep meds such as Ambien -- could increase your risk of a heart attack by 20 percent, according to the latest research.

Take them more often -- 60 pills a year, or a little more than once a week -- and your risk of a heart attack could jump by 50 percent, according to the study presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting.

That's bad news for the millions of people who take sleep meds with this ingredient -- and that bad news gets even worse: The same study finds it can double your risk of aortic dissection.

That's a tear in the aorta, your largest artery. It's a very serious and potentially deadly condition that involves major internal bleeding.

Along with Ambien, you'll find zolpidem in a number of other sleep meds -- including Edluar, Stilnoct, Zolpimist and more. But if you're looking for safer sleep medications, here's your wake up call: They don't exist.

All sleep drugs pack major risks, up to and including the risk of death. One major study found that regular use of sleeping pills in general will boost your risk of death by more than 500 percent.

And using them even occasionally -- just 18 pills a year -- will more than triple your risk of an early death.

So pass on the meds. Fact is, even when they "work," they don't always give you the quality sleep you need.

Instead, I recommend a two-step approach that can solve even the toughest sleep problems.

Step One is a short-term solution that can help you get to sleep tonight. Melatonin as well as natural herbs such as chamomile and passionflower can often do the trick.

Step Two is to work with your doctor to find and correct the underlying cause of your sleep disorder -- causes that can include nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances.

And for some, insomnia can come from a surprising source that you're literally carrying around with you every single day. Click here to find out what it is.