Many people like to “wind down” before going to sleep with a cigarette. But, scientific research shows that tobacco hurts your sleep. The nicotine in tobacco disrupts your sleep patterns and leads to sleep-disordered breathing and insomnia.
Smoking is associated with many health risks, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, routine infections, cancers, and more. Although the heavy metals and toxic chemicals are to blame, nicotine – the stimulant that makes tobacco so addictive –often disrupts your sleep.
If you’re still not sure how smoking tobacco before bedtime is affecting your sleep, keep reading to learn the effects. We’ll also explain how you can sleep more soundly during nicotine withdrawal.
What Are the Effects of Nicotine on Sleep?
Whether you smoke for stress relief, or to sleep, the nicotine present in tobacco is not your friend. Smoking tobacco before bed is harmful for many reasons. It is a stimulant and, even though you smoke to tell your body to relax before hitting the bed, nicotine is telling your body to the opposite.
Does Nicotine Make You Tired or Awake?
Like other stimulants, nicotine increases your mental alertness and heart rate. This makes you feel more awake at bedtime. Furthermore, nicotine is highly addictive. It enters your bloodstream rapidly and travels to your brain within seconds.
It takes hours for nicotine to begin leaving your body. If you are addicted to smoking and nicotine, you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you’re trying to get some sleep. One of these symptoms is your brain trying to wake you up in order to get more nicotine. This addiction can interrupt your sleep numerous times during the night.
Disruptions to sleep patterns can severely lower your quality of sleep and add sleep deprivation to the long list of health risks associated with smoking. Smoking already results in irritability and poor mood. Sleep deprivation exacerbates this, worsening your mood, focus, and cognitive performance. When left untreated, sleep deprivation can become chronic and result in long-term health problems.
Changes Your Sleep Architecture
Your sleep architecture is the cycle of sleep stages you go through while you sleep. These stages include light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. Each of these stages is associated with different biochemical changes in our body, which are required for proper health and daily functioning. It’s crucial to spend enough time in each of these stages to get a complete night’s rest.
Scientists have found that smoking does not only affect your sleep time, but also the time you spend in each of your sleep stages. The following are some common attributes associated with smokers and sleep:
- People who smoke regularly need more time to fall asleep
- They spend less time asleep and have shorter sleep times by 33 minutes
- They experience less slow-wave, or deep, restorative sleep compared to non-smokers
- They spend 4% less time in their REM sleep
- They are four times more likely to report not feeling refreshed after sleep because they spend more time in light sleep than in deep or REM sleep
- Each cigarette you smoke is equal to 1.2 minutes of sleep being lost
According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center, tobacco can disrupt your circadian rhythm by changing the expression of your internal clock genes, in your brain and your lungs. The study exposed mice acutely and chronically to cigarette smoke and discovered significant interruptions in their natural circadian clocks. These disruptions only worsened when the mice were exposed to increased levels of tobacco smoke.
The effects of this distortion in circadian rhythm are beyond just disturbed sleep, with risks including anxiety, increased stress, depression, and other mood disorders. Also, smoking is linked with two common sleep problems, namely insomnia, and sleep-disordered breathing, as explained later.
Causes You to Wake Up Frequently
A 2008 John Hopkins University study shows the sleep patterns among 40 non-smokers and 40 smokers. 5% of the non-smoking participants said they experienced restless sleep. On the other hand, 22.5% of the smokers reported struggling with restless sleep.
Researchers then monitored the participants’ sleep in their homes using an electroencephalogram (EEG). They found that the smoking group spent more time in their light sleep stage compared to the nonsmoking participants, whereas the nonsmoking group accumulated more restorative, deep sleep compared to the smokers.
Deep sleep is the most refreshing part of sleep. Experiencing too little deep sleep or being wakened out of it, can leave you feeling sluggish and disoriented. In fact, waking out of deep sleep can also result in “sleep drunkenness” making it unsafe for you to drive. Scientists also believe that deep sleep is vital for clearing the brain for new learning acquired in the next day.
The human growth hormone is also released in bursts during deep sleep, and any disruptions in this stage can suddenly inhibit its release. Bodybuilders take the drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) because it increases their deep sleep and thus, allows the release of growth hormone. This growth hormone is required for cell repair and development, as well as muscle growth. Not getting enough deep sleep slows your release of growth hormone, severely impairs your cells’ functioning, and also leaves you feeling lethargic the next day.
Makes You Restless in the Morning
Just like caffeine in coffee, nicotine is a stimulant, as well as a drug. This means it can significantly affect the quality of your sleep if you consume it in high enough quantities and close to bedtime. An average individual loses about 1.2 minutes of sleep for every cigarette smoked because of the stimulating and the consequent withdrawal effects of nicotine.
Individuals who smoke tobacco two hours before bedtime often have difficulty falling asleep because of nicotine’s effect on their sleep-wake cycle also called the circadian rhythm. Withdrawal symptoms kick in before their morning alarm goes off, which can leave them even more irritable and restless.
Increases Your Risk of Insomnia
According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia can occur as a result of a wide range of medical and psychiatric conditions, along with lifestyle changes.
Nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Therefore, smoking close to bedtime can wake your mind and body, resulting in sleep-onset insomnia, which refers to difficulty falling asleep. Depending on how addicted you are, waking up in the middle of the night because of nicotine’s withdrawal effects can lead to sleep-maintenance insomnia. Sleep-maintenance insomnia leads to staying asleep, waking up too early, and having difficulty falling back asleep.
Bedtime Smoking Causes Sleep-Disordered Breathing
Sleep-disordered breathing refers to a group of physiopathologic conditions, characterized by abnormal breathing patterns during sleep. It is quite common in the general population and can cause a host of issues, from poor sleep patterns to traffic accidents and hypertension.
Smoking increases one’s risk of two types of sleep-disordered breathing, snoring and sleep apnea.
Whatever condition you have, sleep-disordered breathing severely disturbs your sleep pattern every night, resulting in exhaustion the next day. It can also put a lot of strain on your nervous system and vital organs.
Snoring refers to the noisy breathing you hear during sleep when a person’s upper airway is blocked. It is likely to keep your partner awake at night, so you will need to find ways to block out your snoring if it had already become a problem.
Smoking makes you snore because cigarette smoke irritates the tissues in the upper respiratory tract, causing swelling and inflammation that restricts airflow to the lungs. Snoring is tied to daytime fatigue due to sleep deprivation, as well as severe health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease.
According to a 2011 study published in Sleep and Breathing, smokers are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. It is the most common type of sleep apnea that occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat collapse while you sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a person to stop breathing momentarily while they sleep, pushing the brain to wake the body up and start breathing again. This cessation of breathing can occur multiple times throughout the night, leading to less restful sleep.
Smokers experience this cessation of breathing more often because cigarette smoke contains irritants that inflame nasal tissues, leading to swelling that obstructs airflow. When you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may not consciously wake up, but your sleep cycle does get disturbed, causing sleep deprivation.
If you share a bed with your partner or a child, your second-hand smoke can expose them to irritants that may cause them to have obstructive sleep apnea as well.
What about Vaping and Sleep?
An increasing number of smokers are switching to e-cigarettes, and replacing tobacco with e-liquid. Note that vaping is not harmless and non-smokers should not take up this habit. However, it is a better alternative for regular smokers.
Cigarettes contain about 600 ingredients, which when burnt can generate over 7000 chemicals. Most of these chemicals are toxic, and at least 69 of them are associated with cancer. Smoking can negatively affect your heart, digestive system, and sexual and reproductive health.
Because of the wide range of issues associated with tobacco smoke, people are now choosing to get their nicotine from e-cigarettes. Once you do make this switch, you may notice changes in your lifestyle that can affect your sleep.
Does Vaping Affect Sleep?
The short answer is yes. Vaping can have a significant effect on your sleep, especially if you have made the switch from cigarette smoking quite recently. This can be frustrating for individuals who want to abandon their smoking habits and improve their health. However, it’s crucial to understand that this is just part of your transition. These withdrawal effects are not permanent.
If you have made a switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes in an attempt to quit tobacco, then it’s likely that you’ve chosen e-liquids containing nicotine.
As we mentioned earlier, nicotine is a stimulant that can have a similar effect to caffeine, leaving you staring at the ceiling or continually looking at your phone because you don’t feel sleepy. The nicotine in e-cigarettes is often stronger than what you’ll get from a regular cigarette. This is why you may experience an adjustment period even if you used to be a regular smoker.
How to Stop Vaping from Affecting Your Sleep
You may feel hopeless, not being able to solve your sleeplessness as you lie wide awake late in the night. However, there are a few things you can do before you hit the bed to increase your chances of falling asleep at ease. For starters, switch to an e-liquid that has a lower nicotine strength to the one you’re using right now.
You can also try going for a nicotine-free e-liquid during evening hours. This will allow enough time for your body to get rid of the chemicals before bedtime. Go through different nicotine strengths and find one that suits your lifestyle best.
If you don’t want to buy a new e-liquid or change your current nicotine strength, you can try vaping less in the evening so that your body can prepare itself for sleep.
How to Sleep Better After Quitting Smoking
Sleep disturbances are common with nicotine withdrawal. If you quit smoking recently, you might find that you sleep more, or less, during this phase. Your body is reacting to the lack of nicotine and other chemicals that you’re typically exposed to on days you smoke. Therefore, this transition can cause mental fog and lethargic.
If you feel sleepy often, you should avoid fighting the need for added rest. Try going to bed earlier than you usually do and take naps whenever you feel the need for one. As we mentioned earlier, the effects during this transition period may take a little bit of time to wear off, but you will bounce back with a little bit of patience.
However, insomnia is also a common symptom of nicotine withdrawal, so you may find it difficult to get any sleep after you quit smoking. This may cause you to experience extreme fatigue after quitting smoking. If you are suffering from insomnia or poor sleep during the first few weeks of you quitting tobacco, the following natural remedies may alleviate your symptoms.
Caffeine is a stimulant, but we all know that. What most people don’t know is how caffeine is metabolized in a smoker’s body. If you’re a smoker, any caffeine you consume is digested at twice the rate of a non-smoker. This makes you increasingly tolerant to caffeine.
As soon as you stop smoking, any caffeine you consume isn’t metabolized the same anymore. Therefore, the caffeine content you were used to during your smoking days, may make you feel more anxious and jittery now that you’ve stopped smoking. It may also leave you sleepless in the night.
To cut out the adverse effects of caffeine, especially if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, try either reducing your caffeine intake or cutting it out completely. There’s a high chance you’ll be able to take caffeine again once you’ve gone through your withdrawal process, but you may not be able to drink as much coffee as you used to when you were a smoker.
Aim to get your energy boost from sources and activities that release feel-good chemicals in your brain and stimulate your mind to function better. Some energy-boosting ideas that don’t involve caffeine, or very little caffeine, include cold coconut water, cold kombucha, green tea, working out in the daytime, taking a cold shower before you start your day, and listening to music.
Before going to bed, light a few candles and soak in a scented Epsom salt bath. The warm water and Epsom salts will help loosen your muscles, relax your body and mind and allow the day’s stress to go away. This will help prepare your mind and body for some good sleep.
Try checking the tea section of your local health food store. You’ll find plenty of herbal tea blends that are designed to relax your body and help you sleep. Be sure to find a blend that is caffeine-free. For example, chamomile tea can help you sleep better at night.
For improved sleep, you can make a homemade blend using the following ingredients, or buy a blend containing them:
- Lemon balm
- Magnolia bark
Either play some soothing tunes while you take a warm bath to unwind, or plug in your earphones in bed to help you drift to sleep. Nature sounds, such as waves hitting the beach or rain are excellent sleep aids. Be sure to download an app or music player that will turn itself off as you don’t want to get up to do it.
Binaural beats are a new form of sound wave therapy that delivers two slightly different frequencies to each ear, but your brain perceives it as one. Binaural beats have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, provide deeper meditation, and increase melatonin (sleep hormone) levels in the body.
Avoid listening to binaural beats while doing something else. They only work with earphones on, so make sure you’re lying in bed in a comfortable position before switching them on. Many free apps offer binaural beats for a wide range of uses, such as increasing deep sleep, improving confidence and motivation, beating stress, and much more.
Turn Off All Electronics
Leave your tablet and laptop outside your bedroom and if you have a TV in your room, consider placing it somewhere else in the house. Unless you’re using your smartphone for soothing music or binaural beats, you’d also want to consider leaving it on your dresser so that you don’t use it close to bedtime.
Just like the sun, these devices emit artificial blue light that can disturb your circadian rhythm. When you look at your phone or watch TV before bedtime, you’re preventing your body from releasing enough melatonin to help you fall asleep. If you need to use your phone in bed for the above reasons, try downloading a blue light canceling app.
Instead of watching TV, try reading a book (an actual paper book, not your phone) for a while to help you feel sleepy.
Steer Clear of Alcohol
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does disrupt your sleep pattern. You may feel that it helps you fall asleep, but after a few hours of being in your system, it may wake you up and disrupt your sleep cycle. Sleep becomes intermittent for the rest of the night, leaving you groggy and disoriented when you wake up.
Eat or Drink Something Comforting
By comforting, we don’t mean comfort food, such as cake or pizza, but foods that relax you such as warm milk. Warm milk is an excellent sleep aid because it is packed with L-tryptophan, which is an amino acid that stimulates the body to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that makes your body feel more relaxed and tells it to sleep.
The L-tryptophan in milk is more bioavailable when you pair it with a carbohydrate source, such as nuts. Other foods rich in L-tryptophan include:
- Turkey, chicken, and fish
- Soybean products, such as tofu
- Seeds, such as sunflower seeds
- Nuts, such as cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios
Avoid having dinner and snacks to close to bedtime to prevent any heartburn or acid reflux. Be sure to allow at least 2 hours of not eating before you enter your room.
Meditation is an excellent way of starting and ending your day on the right foot. If you’re using it to promote sleep, lay quietly in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Focus on the muscles in your body, relaxing them consciously, group by group.
Now, move on to your thoughts. Acknowledge each thought as it enters and leaves your mind. Allow your thoughts to leave at their own pace. Don’t try to empty your mind or force negative thoughts out. Let your mind drift, and take your stress and worry with it.
When you’re meditating in the morning, do so in an upright position. This will give you increased calmness, positive energy, control, and focus that will help you function optimally throughout the day.
The physical nicotine withdrawal phase you’ll experience as you stop smoking is temporary. Understand that with proper lifestyle changes, your sleep patterns will be normal soon. If your symptoms persist after a month of self-care treatment, consult your doctor to determine whether quitting smoking is what’s causing your current symptoms.