It seems to be common knowledge that smoking is bad for health. The thousands of toxic chemicals in cigarettes are known to cause cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression, as well as many other health issues. There is another effect of smoking that some may not realize, and that is how smoking cigarettes affects sleep. Nicotine, which is the addictive substance found in cigarettes disrupts sleep in a couple ways.
First of all, nicotine is a stimulant. Many people that smoke have a nightly cigarette as a part of their routines to “relax” them for the night. But since it’s a stimulant, nicotine makes it difficult to fall asleep, kind of like having a cup of coffee before bed. Even though most people feel relaxed after smoking, the nicotine raises heart rate and increases alertness.
Not only is nicotine a stimulant, it’s highly addictive. When consumed, nicotine enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain within just seconds. Within only a couple hours of consumption, half the nicotine has left the body and smokers begin to feel the need for more. People that smoke have a dependence on nicotine. They may experience withdraw symptoms throughout the night when going hours without a cigarette. Since their bodies start craving more nicotine, they may wake up. As a result, their sleep cycles are disrupted. Smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more frequently, they sleep less than nonsmokers, and have a less deep sleep. Because of this, smokers are more likely to wake up feeling tired and not well rested.
Smoking can cause insomnia, which is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, irritability, and can affect performance at work or school.
Smoking also increases the risk of sleep apnea and snoring, which are caused by obstructions of tissue in the airway when we sleep. The air moving in and out of the nose and mouth causes vibration of the tissue, which makes the snoring sound. There are irritants in cigarettes that may cause swelling of these tissues, leading to the obstruction that causes snoring and sleep apnea.
Another risk of smoking, especially before bed, is the chance of falling asleep with a lit cigarette. This causes a risk of burn injuries or even fire.
Smoking is not only harmful to the one with the cigarette. It can be just as harmful to anyone around the burning smoke, especially children. Kids exposed to second-hand smoke, even a very small exposure, are at risk for ear infections, severe and more frequent asthma attacks, respiratory infections, shortness of breath, coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. Babies exposed to second-hand smoke are at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than those who are not exposed.
Quitting smoking can reduce your risk for health issues associated with smoking, and help you begin to get better sleep. Although you may never sleep as well as someone who has never smoked, there is still good news. Studies show that if you quit smoking, sleep problems do not linger. Over time, your addiction will fade and you will begin to sleep better.
If you have tried to quit smoking in the past, try again. Keep trying. It’s common for smokers to try multiple times before succeeding. There are different methods of quitting such as nicotine replacements like gum and patches, medications, and therapy. If “cold turkey” isn’t meant for you, talk to your doctor to find out what is safe and may work for you. Quitting will not only make you healthier, it will help you sleep, and you will feel much more rested.
Author: Kristina Diaz is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and a health and wellness enthusiast and writer.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.