How Does Smoking Affect Sleep?

Smoke out, sleep better.
How Does Smoking Affect Sleep?
Tom Greenspan
December 21, 2022

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Everyone knows it by now: smoking cigarettes or other tobacco or nicotine-based items are bad for personal and public health.

The main culprit here is nicotine, a stimulant that reaches the brain within moments of consumption. This fast-acting nature results in habitual smokers finding it difficult to stop smoking once it becomes a regular part of their lives.

Not only does smoking nicotine increase the risk of several potentially fatal diseases, but it also interferes with the sleep quality. So, the age-old justification of “winding down with a cigarette” does not hold true, particularly when night-time smoking is concerned.

Let’s back this up with a deep dive into nicotine and, by extension, smoking items like cigarettes to see how they affect sleep quality. If you need another justification not to smoke, keep reading!

Nicotine And How Smoking Affects Sleep

Nicotine is a stimulant that is highly addictive, and most people who have smoked a cigarette or taken a puff of an e-cigarette know this. Even before we discuss the effects of nicotine, you may have realized that taking a stimulant before sleep is a bad idea. 

Stimulants can delay your sleep, leading to poor sleep quality and duration. As the body consumes these substances, they signal the body to remain active and alert, keeping it from falling asleep. 

1. Nicotine Withdrawal

Once the body is accustomed to a constant supply of nicotine, depriving the body of it results in what is known as withdrawal. During withdrawal, the body demands that it is supplied with these stimulants again, further interrupting normal bodily functions. 

The more withdrawal it experiences, the more frequent these interruptions become. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Irritation or a grouchy feeling
  • A restless feeling
  • Intense urge to consume the stimulant
  • Reduction in concentration
  • Reduced sleep quality 
  • Reduced sleep duration
  • Food cravings and weight gain
  • Severe mental disorders like anxiety or depression

Nicotine is fast-acting, but it leaves the body just as quickly. This means that someone who is addicted to nicotine will crave another smoke quicker than other addictions. Withdrawal is amplified for those addicted to nicotine, and it can become quite severe in the long run.

And this isn’t even getting into the side effects of nicotine, of which there are several. The damage isn’t limited to the lungs, as nearly all of the organ systems of the body are heavily impacted by nicotine consumption.

2. Nicotine And Sleep

If you’re a habitual smoker, your body likely craves nicotine even while sleeping. The more addicted you are to it, the more frequently these sleep disturbances will occur. And if your sleep keeps getting interrupted because of a nicotine craving, it will inevitably impact other parts of your life. Not to mention the myriad of health risks born of a short sleep duration.

Sleep deprivation can become chronic, leading to serious diseases like cancer or diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and more.

Here’s a brief overview of the effects of nicotine smoking and sleep disturbance on your sleep quality:

A. Changes In Sleep Architecture

Sleep occurs in two repeating stages where your body relaxes and repairs itself. These can be broadly classified into Rapid Eye Movement and Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, each of which has sub-stages.

In the third and final stage of NREM sleep, called slow wave sleep, the body relaxes and the brain activity slows down for physical repairs. Naturally, this is essential to being well-rested and ready for the next day.

Something worth noting here is that when the body suffers from withdrawal, it may not reach this stage of sleep at all. In particularly severe cases, withdrawal symptoms may cause sleep disturbances in the REM stage, which is not a favorable outcome. If the body doesn’t spend time in either stage sufficiently, it will result in reduced sleep duration.

Each cigarette smoked contributes to a greater chance of developing withdrawal, which will lead to plenty of lost sleep. Moreover, smokers will not be able to fall asleep easily due to the stimulating nature of nicotine, nor will they remain asleep for as long.

It’s not uncommon for habitual smokers to wake up not feeling refreshed, particularly compared to non-smokers. The time they do spend sleeping is mostly in REM sleep, where the body doesn’t relax fully.

And unfortunately, these problems simply don’t go away once a smoker quits. While their sleep quality certainly improves, it never quite reaches that of a non-smoker.

B. Sleep Disorders

Sleep deprivation as a result of nicotine withdrawal can result in several chronic sleep disorders. These include insomnia, sleep apnea, and more.

Insomnia is directly linked to the disruption of sleep architecture as a result of sleep fragmentation or delay. It is measured using what is known as the Insomnia Severity Index, which can help doctors gauge the severity of the issue.

While this problem may present itself as a nuisance at first, it can eventually cascade into other issues. Chronic body pain, cancer, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease can be caused by this sleep disorder. Increased insomnia severity should not be taken lightly, once it has been detected.

Habitual smokers also tend to snore in what little sleep they get, and the severity of their snoring only gets worse the more they smoke. This is caused by the swelling of the airway, which is a direct result of the pollutants present in a cigarette. Lung damage and swollen nose and throat tissue can eventually cause obstructive sleep apnea in the long run.

Vaping And Sleep

The e-cigarettes that are touted to be a viable alternative to regular cigarettes are not much better in mitigating the damage to your health. While the nicotine consumed per puff of an e-cigarette is lower when compared to an average cigarette, by no means is it safe.

An e-cigarette, or a vape pen, works on a principle that is similar to that of a regular cigarette. When a vape pen is turned on, it heats up a liquid that primarily contains nicotine and flavoring, which is then inhaled. Unlike a cigarette, no tobacco is burned in a vape pen.

Studies on e-cigarettes indicate that those who use these devices experience more sleep disturbances than those who never have. The conclusion here is the same as what is observed with regular cigarette smokers, which is to be expected. Nicotine is the primary reason here, which is used liberally in both smoking items.

Smoking Cessation

It’s natural to assume that once you quit cigarette smoking, you will no longer experience sleep disturbances. Unfortunately, it is not as straightforward as that. 

Withdrawal can be quite difficult to deal with once you quit, and the urge will become much more difficult to resist as time goes on. The physical and psychological craving for nicotine can cause an uptick in your heart rate and blood pressure, not to mention depressive symptoms.

But let none of that discourage you! It’s never too late to stop cigarette smoking, and having the benefits of higher sleep quality is preferable over none.

So, here are a few tips to help you along your journey to quit vape or cigarette smoking.

1. Set A Goal For Yourself

The journey to quitting smoking will require plenty of motivation to begin, and there is no motivator quite like a goal you set yourself. One of the best ways to do so is to always keep the reason for embarking on this journey in sight.

Is it to reduce the risk factor of life-threatening diseases or to protect your family from passive smoking? Whatever your reason may be, it’s wise to keep it in mind while you resist the urge to open that one last pack of cigarettes.

2. Take It Slow And Easy

Dealing with withdrawal isn’t as simple as stopping smoking altogether. You will need plenty of help from professionals and friends alike as you continue to manage it. Professionals can recommend smoking cessation treatment that will pave the way toward a smoke-free future. And friends can help you remain motivated through it all.

3. Pick Up A Hobby

This may sound somewhat unusual, but a hobby can help distract you from nicotine cravings. Whether it is music, sports, conversing with your friends or something else, try to find something healthy to divert your attention towards. The aim here is to relax through the process and avoid any stressful situations that may tempt you to take cigarette smoke in once more.

4. Avoid Triggers

One of the biggest roadblocks on the road to a nicotine-free future is the sheer abundance of trigger substances in our daily lives. Substances like alcohol and caffeine can reawaken the urge to smoke, which can make it difficult to resist.

Consider switching to food or activities that do not involve strong stimulants. You may switch to herbal tea over coffee temporarily or try chewing gum instead.

5. Remain Persistent

The benefits of smoking cessation are almost immediate. Your heart rate is the biggest indicator of this, which will return to normal levels after just 20 minutes of resisting a smoke. The levels of carbon monoxide in your blood will also reduce, and so will the risk of contracting heart disease.

Persistence is the key to success when it comes to stopping cigarette smoking. Even if you relapse a time or two, you can quit once again. Take the relapse as a life lesson instead of a failure, and embark on the journey once more. Remember that there is no shame in starting over and that time is on your side.

4 Tips To Improve Your Sleep Quality 

As you continue on the journey towards a smoke-free future, consider the following tips to improve your sleep quality further.

1. Be Mindful Of What You Eat

In addition to avoiding stimulants and trigger substances like caffeine, you will benefit from limiting your sugar and fat intake late at night. High amounts of sugar or fat can keep you hyperactive, preventing you from falling asleep sooner.

Consider drinking a healthy amount of water each day, ranging from two to five liters per day.

2. Set Up An Exercising Routine

Exercising is known to provide several health benefits, including an improvement in subjective sleep quality. By exercising outside every day, you will reap all the benefits that come with it.

It’s important that you exercise in the open air early in the morning, as natural light can help ward off any daytime sleepiness. This will also help keep your circadian rhythms in check, making it, so you feel sleepy as the day reaches its end.

3. Create A Relaxing Environment

Consider removing any stimulating electronics and distracting elements from the immediate vicinity of your bed. Maintaining a comfortable room temperature will allow you to relax and unwind faster and fall asleep quicker.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should limit the number of active light sources in the room for a good night’s sleep. Turn off most, if not all, of the artificial light sources while you sleep.

4. Nap If You Feel Drowsy

People who habitually smoke may feel drowsy during the day, which can be mitigated somewhat through short naps. If you find yourself nodding off in the middle of the day, consider taking a 30-minute nap.

Doing so will allow you to fall into REM sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed than before. But remember that these napping sessions shouldn’t last any longer, as they will leave you feeling much less refreshed afterward. There’s a chance that you feel even drowsier after napping for a longer period.

Summing Up

There are several layers to the kind of damage smoking does to your sleep architecture. Indulging in nightly smoking only has negative effects on your sleep. And the consequences of poor sleep can be moderate to severe in the long run, which is why quitting smoking is paramount.

While some of the damage to your sleep health cannot be reversed, it can still be improved by reducing nicotine exposure. It’s never too late to begin smoking cessation programs, and your circadian rhythms will thank you for it.

If you ever find yourself struggling with smoking cessation efforts, don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor for appropriate medical advice. They can help you ease into giving up the habit of smoking with sleep medicine, alternatives, or an action plan. And with some dedication, you will have reached a normal sleep duration before long.