How Can Smoking Influence Your Nightly Rest?

Nicotine is well known for causing disease and death in millions of people, but its adverse effects on sleep are often overlooked. By stimulating the release of several chemical messengers in the brain, nicotine drastically reduces sleep quality by decreasing the duration of sleep, increasing daytime sleepiness, and causing difficulties in falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. Considering this, is the immediate gratification of a nicotine rush worth losing sleep? Let's delve into it further.

How does nicotine affect sleep?

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant that negatively affects not only people who smoke cigarettes but also users of vaping devices or other tobacco products. A survey administered to 3,516 participants revealed that smokers have a higher risk of developing sleep disturbances. This was particularly associated with difficulties falling asleep and trouble waking up.

Increased insomnia symptoms, such as trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, are commonly reported negative effects of nicotine use. In addition, nicotine withdrawal during sleep is also associated with insomnia symptoms, as reported in up to 39% of cases.

Smoking nicotine also affects the basic structure of sleep called sleep architecture. Studies conducted with polysomnography, a technique used to measure sleep stages, show that smokers have a shift towards the lighter stages of sleep at the expense of deeper and more restful sleep and reduced sleep efficiency, the ratio of time asleep to time spent in bed. Research also shows that the total time spent asleep differs between smokers and nonsmokers, with two studies reporting that smokers generally spend 13.3–14.0 fewer minutes asleep compared to nonsmokers.

Additionally, there is evidence that smoking may contribute to the development of obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, a sleep-related breathing disorder characterized by snoring, daytime sleepiness, involuntary stops in breathing for brief periods during sleep, and hypoxemia during sleep (low level of oxygen in the blood). These disruptions in sleep patterns and changes in sleep structure suggest a significant decline in sleep quality. Therefore, it's crucial to obtain the essential physical, mental, and emotional benefits that sleep provides.

Does vaping nicotine affect sleep differently than smoking?

Although vaping is thought to be healthier than cigarettes and is sometimes advertised as a way to quit smoking, let’s not fall for the hype. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) released by the FDA and CDC, vapes are the most common tobacco product used by U.S. high school students. The survey revealed that 7.7% of students report current use of vapes. Like traditional smoking, vaping and e-cigarettes can lead to the same range of adverse effects on sleep mentioned above:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Insomnia symptoms
  • Alterations in sleep stages
  • Obstructive sleep apnea symptoms

Does nicotine keep you awake?

Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant, and its consumption close to bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep and can lead to higher alertness. Nicotine is also associated with a higher number of awakenings during the night, as reported by 19–51% of smokers.

On average, smokers experience two episodes of nocturnal awakenings per night. In addition, nicotine withdrawal during sleep can lead to or exacerbate insomnia symptoms. Findings from a study using polysomnography also revealed that, compared to nonsmokers, smokers exhibit more leg movements during the night. These movements can also contribute to the increased number of nocturnal awakenings.

How long does nicotine keep you awake?

The Jackson Heart Sleep Ancillary Study examined sleep data collected from 785 participants between 2012 and 2016. The study compared data on the evening use of nicotine and its impact on wake after sleep onset, a sleep parameter also known as WASO. This is measured as periods of being awake during the night. It revealed that nicotine consumption four hours before bedtime led to a six-minute increase in wakefulness after sleep onset.

Can smoking make you tired?

Smoking can indeed make you tired, primarily because it affects the quality of your sleep, which directly impacts cognitive abilities and daily functioning. When nicotine is consumed, it triggers an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Additionally, smoking leads to the absorption of carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. Thus, the heart needs to pump blood harder to supply all the organs with the necessary oxygen, contributing to the feeling of fatigue.

A study that compared self-reported experiences of smokers and individuals who never smoked showed that current smokers are more likely to report daytime sleepiness and drowsiness during the day.

How to sleep better when smoking

Improving sleep quality while smoking can be challenging, but there are strategies and tips that can be used to mitigate the disruptive effects of nicotine.

To enhance sleep quality, it's advisable to avoid all nicotine products for at least four hours before bedtime. This allows the stimulant effects to diminish, promoting better rest. Additionally, implementing various sleep hygiene practices can further improve sleep quality.

Tips for better sleep while smoking
  1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Create a sleep-conducive environment in your bedroom: dark, quiet, and cool bedroom, and comfortable mattress and pillows.
  3. Set a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading, listening to music, or practicing meditation before sleep.
  4. Engaging in regular physical activity can improve sleep quality. However, avoid intensive workouts close to bedtime, as they can be overly stimulating.
  5. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime, as they can disrupt your ability to fall asleep.

How can quitting smoking affect sleep?

Quitting smoking is undoubtedly the best choice for improving different aspects of life, including reduced risks of cardiovascular diseases, better lung function, and improved overall health. However, quitting is particularly challenging because of withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, tremors, and anxiety, that can last up to four weeks. Therefore, seeking personalized support from your healthcare provider can be crucial.

To manage these symptoms, smokers turn to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which includes products like nicotine gum, patches, pouches, sprays, or lozenges. These products contain a small amount of nicotine and are safer alternatives because they do not contain the harmful carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) found in cigarettes and vapes. While NRT can be addictive and also lead to the same problems of sleep disturbances, deprivation, and insomnia, it is a better option as it gradually eases withdrawal symptoms over time.

In summary, nicotine consumption in any form may cause sleep disturbance, can lead to insomnia symptoms, and alter sleep architecture. These disruptions can make you less productive during the day and negatively impact your mental and physical well-being. Nicotine replacement therapy offers a viable solution by helping manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms and gradually reduce nicotine dependency.

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