New study finds big risk for sleeping pills

A controversial new study suggests that taking Ambien, Lunesta or other prescription sleep aids may actually dramatically increase your risk of death.

The study is alarming, but scientists don't really know what is going on, Dr. Carl Bazil, a neurologist and director of Columbia University's Comprehensive Epilepsy and Sleep Center, said on "CBS This Morning."

"There's no question that sleeping pills are over-prescribed," Bazil said. "I think that's one thing that will come out of this. But why the association is there, we don't know."

Bazil explained the study simply shows that if you get a prescription for sleeping pills, for whatever reason, you have an increased risk of death. However, other factors, such as a patient's symptoms, may contribute to the higher risk. "There are a lot of unknowns, " Bazil said. "But it is a little bit frightening."

"It's not necessarily the pill that's causing the problem," he said. "I think there is an association that they saw with higher doses, and you can certainly see that. If you're overusing sleeping pills, you're going to be drowsy. You might be driving with it, you have other kinds of accidents. That's clearly a problem that needs to be dealt with."

Do people who are currently taking sleeping pills need to be worried?

"I think you always need to weigh the risks versus the benefits," Bazil said. "If there are other ways to help with your sleep, other than taking pills, that's often a better solution."

For more on this study with Bazil, including discussion on sleep disorder misdiagnosis and what people who take sleep aids should be concerned about, watch the video in the player above.