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Graedons' Pharmacy: Do sleeping pills shorten life?

What can I do to get a reasonable night's sleep? I have just spent another sleepless night. If I don't get some sleep soon, I will go nuts. I also worry that insomnia will undermine my overall health. I used to take zolpidem (Ambien), but I have read that sleeping pills pose a danger.

A. A recent study (BMJ Open, Feb. 27, 2012) showed popular sleeping pills such as zolpidem (Ambien), temazepam (Restoril), eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata) and sedatives like alprazolam and lorazepam were associated with a greater risk of dying. There was also a 20 percent to 35 percent increase in a variety of cancers among sleeping-pill users.

The researchers suggest that such medications could make sleep apnea worse, contributing to a variety of health complications including high blood pressure and heart problems. These drugs also may contribute to falls or unsafe driving the next day.

Nondrug options include exercise during the day and a hot bath an hour before bedtime. Many people report that a magnesium supplement in the evening can be helpful.

We are sending you our Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep with do's and don'ts for overcoming insomnia and lots more nondrug options. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (65 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. I-70, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q. I have had toenail fungus for more than 37 years. I started using a light sprinkle of foot powder containing cornstarch with zinc in my shoes and socks when I go for my daily walk. This week, I noticed that my toenail fungus is gone. This cure took about 30 days and was inexpensive.

A. Thanks for letting us know about your success. While the commercial formula you used was cost-effective, some people make their own foot powder with equal parts cornstarch, baking powder and zinc oxide. Those who would prefer a ready-made product will find one under Dr. Scholl's or Mexsana brand names.

Q. I have suffered from sharp pains in my feet diagnosed as peripheral neuropathy. I heard on your radio show that a supplement called benfotiamine might help. I tried it, and feeling has returned and the pain is gone. Thanks!

A. Benfotiamine is a synthetic derivative of the B vitamin thiamine. A placebo-controlled study (Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology and Diabetes, November 2008) found that this supplement is helpful against peripheral neuropathy.

Q. I searched the Internet looking for ways to help my husband get some sleep and not cough all night. Ever since his radiation therapy for vocal-cord cancer, he has coughed at night.

After applying Vicks VapoRub to his feet and then putting socks on, he had the best night's sleep last night he has had in years. When he let the dogs out, he did not even cough all the way to the door and back as he usually does. This truly worked for him. I hope it continues.

A. We have no idea why applying Vicks VapoRub to the soles of the feet seems to help alleviate a nighttime cough. Other readers have been reporting success with this remedy for years. Here is another testimonial:

"I read about Vicks VapoRub several years ago but thought it would cause a mess. One night I couldn't sleep because of a cough and was ready to try anything. I thought of a better way to apply VapoRub to my feet.

"I took an adhesive bandage and applied VapoRub to the pad before sticking it on the center of my instep. I sealed the edges so the VapoRub would not come out the sides, and I didn't need socks to keep the ointment off the sheets. This VapoRub remedy is a godsend for me and my family."

Joe and Teresa Graedon, authors of "Favorite Home Remedies From The People's Pharmacy," answer questions from readers. E-mail them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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