Watch an old movie or two, and you’ll likely see plenty of actors lighting up just before lights out. When they wake up, often the first thing they grab is a cigarette. Of course, we’ve learned lots about smoking risk since actors puffed away on the silver screen. There are many ways tobacco harms our health. If you’re smoking around bedtime, you might wonder how nicotine impacts your sleep. Here are some answers.
Smoking and Sleepless Nights
It’s somewhat ironic that studies suggest that not getting enough sleep is potentially as harmful as smoking. There’s a definite link between sleep deprivation and heart disease, diabetes, and stroke along with a heightened risk for obesity. That’s because when you are tired your body produces the hunger-producing hormone ghrelin. So to stay healthy –– not to mention focused and happy –– you need to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Studies suggest that smokers fall far short of that mark.
Nicotine is a multi-pronged drug. It promotes the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that can give smokers an overall sense of wellbeing. As Amanda Holm, M.P.H., tobacco treatment manager at Henry Ford Health System, explains, nicotine “…has an overall mood-modulating effect. If you’re bored, sleepy or tired, nicotine will act as a stimulant to help you feel more alert and awake. But, if you’re feeling anxious, it will smooth out your anxieties.” In fact, for people suffering from severe depression, these modulating effects may actually improve their quality of sleep. For most people, however, smoking is an almost guaranteed sleep disrupter.
Nicotine is a stimulant. Just as caffeine can remain in your system for six to nine hours after you have a cup of coffee, nicotine can signal your body to be alert hours after you’ve stubbed out your last ciggie. In fact, studies suggest that smokers are far more prone to poor sleep quality and sleep disturbance than nonsmokers. A recent study even showed that four hours before bedtime, alcohol and nicotine were far more disruptive to sleep than caffeine.
Better Zzzzzs For Quitters
Regular smoking can even disrupt your circadian rhythm ––– your body’s built-in clock that signals when you should go to bed and when you should wake up. Overall the average smoker has reduced sleep quality and may not experience the five rapid eye movement cycles your body needs each night for refreshing slumber. These effects are progressive. The longer you smoke, the worse they get. In fact, a study from the University of Florida suggested that for every one cigarette you smoke, your total sleep time decreases by over a minute. Worse, nonsmokers who never inhaled were better sleepers than former smokers. Keep in mind that sleep disturbances are linked to nicotine –– which means that besides cigarettes, people who use e-cigs or patches are also vulnerable.
The way smoking affects your sleep is not just about nicotine of course. The health effects of a cigarette habit are also responsible. Smokers are more likely to have sleep apnea –– a condition where you stop breathing for brief periods, usually awakening as a result. They also suffer from breathing issues and coughing which can make it tough to get a good night’s sleep.
Smokers and non-smokers who are having sleep issues need to make the activity a priority. That means keeping a regular bedtime, reducing or eliminating evening alcohol and caffeine consumption, and discontinuing use of any blue-light emitting devices a couple hours before bedtime. The ideal environment is cool and dark so transforming your room into a cave can really help.
Quitting the cigarette habit is hard. Doing so will definitely help you sleep more easily.
Written by John Bankston
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- How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
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- What is Sleep Apnea?