Does nicotine affect sleep? Yes! Nicotine and sleep are closely tied. While smoking and other forms of nicotine are widely known for their contribution to health issues, such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure or hypertension, and lung conditions. However, many are unaware of how significantly nicotine impacts sleep. If you regularly consume some form of nicotine, you may find that you experience poorer quality sleep. Continue reading to find out how nicotine affects your sleep and health and for tips on how to alleviate sleep issues associated with nicotine.
Nicotine is most commonly found in cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigarettes, and nicotine patches or gum. It is known to increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases.
It's also highly addictive. Reportedly, the majority of smokers would like to quit, but every year, only 6% are able to quit successfully. Upon consumption through smoking or otherwise, nicotine is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to the brain. This briefly increases the body's dopamine levels. Because dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter, smoking becomes associated with pleasure, therefore reinforcing the behavior. Repeated and long-term exposure can also alter brain circuits, causing learning and reward behaviors to change.
Some people like to smoke or vape before bed, claiming that it has a relaxing or antianxiety effect. This is likely due to nicotine stimulating dopamine, which causes the user to feel pleasure more strongly than anxiety. Nicotine can also reduce the feeling of sleepiness and boost the ability to focus and retain information.
Users can mistakenly mistake these feelings for good sleep health. Long-term smoking is associated with cognitive decline, so the negative long-term effects outweigh the positive short-term results.
Normal sleep cycles include both rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. NREM sleep is divided into various stages that represent sleep depth. These depths are characterized by variations in brain wave patterns, eye movements, and muscle tone. Irregular instances of these sleep stages are associated with sleep disorders. Because these sleep cycles are important in cognitive function, sleep disruption can cause mental and physical impairments.
Nicotine in any form is strongly associated with disturbance in sleep cycles. It is also associated with increased sleep onset latency and extended durations of night-time awakening. Nicotine-induced sleep disruptions may be linked to increased levels of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular morbidity due to repeated sympathetic nervous system activation. Such disruptions can cause effects associated with sleep deficiency or sleep deprivation. Different forms of nicotine are associated with various sleep issues.
Studies show that smokers experience longer sleep latency, higher instances of insomnia, decreased sleep time and reduced sleep efficiency. Those who begin smoking earlier in life are more likely to develop chronic insomnia than those who began later. Many smokers also report an increased difficulty in waking up in the morning and elevated daytime sleepiness. Some reports also suggested an increased incidence of nightmares.
These reports are supported by EEG recordings, which track and indicate irregular arousal and alertness levels. This alertness that smokers feel when they smoke during the daytime is the same alertness that disrupts their sleep at night.
Smoking is also shown to cause and antagonize respiratory disorders, such as asthma or sleep apnea. These disorders may also disrupt sleep, resulting in worse overall sleep quality and increased daytime sleepiness.
Many people who vape or use e-cigarettes have reported night-time breathing issues and sleep disturbances. In one study that observed the sleep of combustible cigarette smokers and e-cigarette users, e-cigarette users reported greater use of sleep medication. E-cigarettes are also linked to reduced sleep health, comparably to the use of combustible cigarettes.
Nicotine patches and gum are often used to help people quit smoking. However, they can still result in disrupted sleep. This is because nicotine still induces alertness, regardless of how it is delivered to the body. Many patches come in 16-hour dosages, which means that users will experience sleep-disrupting withdrawal symptoms at night.
Even if you've quit smoking, you can still experience the effects of nicotine on your sleep. If you've recently quit, you'll experience symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal can cause physical and psychological distress, which may interrupt your sleep. You may also continue to experience nicotine-related insomnia, increased sleep latency, reduced sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness for some time after you've quit. In some cases, up to 39% of people who have quit have reported these kinds of sleep disruptions.
Withdrawal can make sleep more difficult and increase the risk of relapse. Whether you're using it or trying to get off of it, nicotine can cause significant sleep issues.
Whether you're quitting nicotine or not, here are some ways to help you enjoy better sleep:
If you're struggling with nicotine, withdrawal, and its effects on your sleep and well-being, it may be time to get help from a medical professional. Have you gone through nicotine addiction, withdrawal and recovery to enjoy better sleep? Tell us your story in the comments below.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.