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Smoking And Sleep – How Does Smoking Affect Overall Sleep Quality?

a profile image of TSA author Andjela

Written By Anđela Rajković

Certified Sleep Consultant

Cigarette smoke

1 April 2024 7 min read

There is a reason why people say that once you start smoking, your sleep will never be the same. That is because smoking and sleep are deeply akin!

There is a reason why people say that once you start smoking, your sleep will never be the same. That is because smoking and sleep are deeply akin!

Half a century ago, it was believed that cigarette smoking was great for health and relaxation. Luckily, these days are long gone and now we are familiar with all the bad things smoking comes with – cancers, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory infections, weakened immune system, etc. What is worse, these bad things don't affect cigarette smokers only, no. They affect all those around them, the so-called second-hand smokers.

Moreover, another bad thing can come from smoking. It may not be widely known, but smoking affects sleep. And, when we have trouble sleeping, that is, when our sleep duration and sleep quality are disturbed, we become subjects to a whole other group of physical and mental health problems. It's a vicious circle, you see.

How does smoking affect overall sleep quality?

An image of a person holding a cigarette.

You probably heard this many times before, but it doesn't hurt to mention it again. Namely, tobacco smoking is strangely addictive. It is just as addictive (and maybe even more) as alcohol, drugs, and medications. And, why is that? Well, smoking tobacco is addictive because cigarettes are full of nicotine – an addictive organic compound. Once this compound enters our bodies, it stimulates the release of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that simply makes us feel good and full of some unexplained pleasure. However, once the presence of this feel-good compound starts leaving our bodies, the first thing that is affected is our sleep quality.

 

Smoking and sleep disturbance can then lead to many more physical and mental health disorders, but, today, let us focus only on the poor sleep quality that comes from cigarette smoking.

Disrupting circadian rhythm

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that smoking can lead to sleep disturbances because nicotine negatively affects our circadian rhythms. Namely, these researchers exposed several mice to cigarette smoke, both chronically and acutely. After several weeks of this, they noticed a disruption in the mice's natural circadian rhythms. As time progressed, and as these mice were more and more exposed to cigarette smoke, they started to show not only signs of sleep disturbance but also signs of mood swings, anxiety, and even depression.

If you do not know, circadian rhythm is your sleep-wake cycle. In other words, circadian rhythm tells you when it's time to go to bed and when to wake up. And, of course, it also helps us regulate our sleep, helps us sleep longer, and helps us achieve better sleep quality. So, if you want to improve your sleep quality, circadian hacking is definitely something you should try.

Interrupting REM sleep

Those who have a long smoking status may notice having either strange dreams or no dreams at all. This is because smoking affects our REM sleep. REM sleep or rapid eye movement is a stage when dreaming occurs. However, if this stage of our sleep is disrupted, our dreams will be too.

But, your dreams should not be the biggest problem here. Namely, when our REM sleep is disturbed, processes such as memory consolidation, emotional expression, and learning are also disrupted.

Increased risk of sleep apnea

Have you heard about sleep apnea? It is when we repeatedly stop breathing during the night. Because of this, we snore, gasp, keep waking up in the middle of the night, and feel tired the entire day. Sleep apnea happens because there is a collapse of muscles on the back of our throats during the night.

However, with smokers, this collapse of muscles can be even stronger as the smoke they inhale strongly irritates all the tissues on and around those muscles. This condition is often even called smoking cessation as smoke tends to make those tissues swell and restrict airflow and thus, make sleep apnea even worse.

Increased risk of insomnia

When you are an active smoker, you have an increased insomnia severity index. Yes, we know what you are going to say – insomnia typically comes from some medical conditions. But, it can also come from smoking!

Nicotine, a chemical found in cigarettes, is a stimulant that can increase heart rate and blood pressure, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, smoking can damage the respiratory system, leading to breathing difficulties during sleep and causing disruptions in sleep patterns.

Furthermore, people who smoke may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms during the night, which can disrupt sleep and cause insomnia. These symptoms can include cravings, anxiety, and restlessness.

Having difficulties falling and staying asleep

Cigarette smokers often have difficulties falling and staying asleep. This usually happens because of all the withdrawal symptoms one may experience even after not smoking for a couple of hours. For instance, if you decide to decrease your tobacco usage, for the first couple of months you will experience mood swings, irritability, restlessness, headaches, fatigue, chest tightness, and many more.

Nicotine dependence will make you crave tobacco all day and night long. And, yes, when the time comes for you to hit the sack, you will not be able to. Why? Because all you will be doing is thinking about smoking tobacco.

To improve your sleep health, you should quit smoking

If you want to finally have that good night's sleep, and of course, if you want to get rid of your sleep disorders, as well as your physical and mental disorders, there is a simple solution – just quit smoking.

However, we all know how difficult that can be. Nicotine dependence is nothing to joke about. Quitting smoking is, according to many, one of the toughest things they have ever done. And, why is that? Because of all the withdrawal symptoms that will ‘hit' you as soon as you throw that cigarette into the bin. Here are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms:

These withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, depending on factors such as the amount and duration of tobacco use, the individual's overall health, and their previous experiences with quitting smoking.

It's important to note that although withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, they typically peak within the first few days after quitting and improve over time.

How to quit smoking

An image of a persons hand holding a cigarette.

Fighting the urge to light that cigarette can be one of the most challenging things you will ever do. But, hey, many people have done this before you, so you can do it. Just remember, no matter how strong that urge may be, it will pass. It will pass in a couple of minutes, hours, or days. And, until it passes, try doing one of the following activities.

Nicotine replacement therapy

If you are a long-time smoker, someone who has been smoking for 20 or 30 years, the best thing you can do for yourself is to try the so-called nicotine replacement therapy. This therapy may include prescription nicotine in a nasal spray or inhaler, Prescription non-nicotine drugs, or nicotine patches or gum.

However, it is important to mention that, although all these prescription things are not as damaging to our health as tobacco smoking, all the nicotine in them will still cause you sleep disturbance.

Avoid triggers

When you are trying to quit cigarette smoking, you should also stay away from all the triggers, that is, from all the things that are making you want to light a cigarette. For instance, stay away from bars and pubs, don't go to coffee shops that allow smoking, and don't even hang out with your friends that smoke. Of course, you will not have to do this forever, just until you feel confident and until you are sure that nothing can trigger your old habit.

Get physical

One of the things that can distract you from cigarette smoking (and a thing that will definitely improve your sleep duration and sleep quality) is getting physical. You don't have to go to the gym and lift weights, you don't even have to do sports. Get physical the way you like it. If you enjoy walking, that too will distract you from your nicotine cravings. Do any kind of physical activity that you find enjoyable – cycling, yoga, swimming, etc.

Try some relaxation techniques

Speaking of things you find enjoyable, you can also try doing some relaxation techniques. Maybe you can practice calm breathing. Or you can try meditation. Or, even try the previously mentioned yoga. The idea of this is for you to clear your mind and thoughts. And, of course, to stop thinking about smoking.

Join a support group

how-to-quit_hand-breaking-cigarettes

Nowadays, there are many support groups out there. There is probably a nicotine withdrawal support group around your corner or somewhere around your city. So, go there. Talk to people who are going through the same problem as you are. Once you see how everybody is supportive and, more important, once you see that you are not alone, quitting smoking will be much easier.

Conclusion

As you have seen, smoking and sleep have many things in common. Yes, smoking can lead to many health problems (physical and mental health problems) but it can also lead to impaired sleep quality. So, if you have been experiencing some trouble sleeping, that is why.

In this article, you have seen all the connections between sleep and nicotine dependence. But, you have also seen all the things you can do to fix this dependence. So, be brave. Try to cure this dependence, and you will not only have a healthier life to live but also better sleep health.

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About the author

Anđela Rajković
As a CPD certified Sleep Consultant and well-practiced sleep enthusiast, I find a lot of joy in bringing my expertise to our readers – preferably those who love to sleep. With a background in the English language and literature and a love of research, I'm always seeking new ways to share the latest sleep science and bed-related findings. And, when I'm not connecting with my readers, you can find me exploring the great outdoors, or, well, curling up in bed.
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