Poor sleep can be attributed to a number of reasons. Sleep disorders, a temperature that’s too high or low, illness, stress – there’s a host of causes. However, there’s one habit that 34.3 million American adults indulge in that doesn’t just cause health issues but also leads to poor sleep: smoking. In a study by the University of Wisconsin, survey data from 3,516 adults were examined to find a relationship between smoking and sleep-disordered breathing. The results showed that smoking was associated with difficulty initiating sleep and waking up. Despite nearly 6 million people dying from tobacco use and related diseases worldwide, it’s a habit that is tough to quit. The fact that it interferes with sleep may come as a surprise to those who view it as a way to wind down after a long day. The truth is, nicotine is a stimulant so it keeps you alert. It can also lead to sleep problems.
In order to understand this connection, we need to look at nicotine and what it does. Nicotine is a stimulant, which means it keeps you alert and awake. There are some who say it makes them sleepy and that could be because it induces a false sense of relaxation. By feeding the body nicotine, it staves off withdrawal symptoms that can feel similar to anxiety. What this means is that it doesn’t actually reduce anxiety or stress but it reduces withdrawal symptoms and makes you feel relaxed.
Nicotine is an addictive substance and those who are hooked on smoking may find themselves craving for a cigarette at night. Nicotine enters and leaves the body quickly, which means that it triggers cravings in a matter of hours. Those who are addicted may experience withdrawal when asleep too so they’re compelled to wake up and have a smoke.
Sleep architecture is the cycle of sleep stages that you go through every night. They include three non-REM stages and one REM stage that we cycle through several times. Ideally, you need to complete each stage a few times in order to feel rested. Unfortunately, smoking disrupts this architecture and prevents you from completing the stages. You spend less time in each, take longer to fall asleep and experience less slow-wave or deep sleep. The result is evident the next day when you wake up bleary-eyed, tired and irritable. You can’t concentrate as well and have trouble dealing with stress.
Sleep disorders can arise due to several factors and smoking is one of them. It can lead to insomnia and more serious conditions like sleep apnea. Since nicotine keeps you awake, you’ll have a harder time falling asleep. Waking up from sleep with nicotine cravings can also cause what’s known as sleep-maintenance insomnia where you have trouble staying asleep.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), smoking can exacerbate the symptoms by causing the throat and nasal tissues to swell. OSA is a condition that causes the airways to narrow and prevent smooth breathing. When breathing stops, the brain rouses you so you start breathing again. This intermittent breathing disrupts the sleep cycle.
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It’s much easier said than done but quitting smoking can reverse poor sleep and help you maintain good health. Know that it can take several attempts to quit before you actually do so don’t beat yourself up if you relapse. The key to quitting is to address the physical addiction and the ritual that goes with smoking. For instance, smoking may be something you do at the end of a meal or when you take a break from work. You’ll need to find different habits to fill these times such as taking a walk, snacking on a square of chocolate or sipping water.
Keep in mind that you may find it difficult to sleep when you quit smoking as your body undergoes withdrawal. The good news is that this insomnia passes in a few weeks. To make it easier to sleep, keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet. Sleep on a comfortable mattress like Nuvanna that’s designed to promote better sleep. You can also try relaxation techniques like deep breathing and guided imagery to control cravings and get your mind off smoking.
Laying off smoking – and other forms of tobacco – has so many health and sleep advantages. However, the addictive nature of nicotine means that it takes time, determination and a lot of effort to quit. Each time you’re tempted to reach out for a cigarette, replace it with a healthy action or habit. Remember that only good things come out of not smoking!