How Does Smoking Cigarettes Affect Sleep?

Insomnia, Snoring, and Sleep Apnea May Be Worsened by Smoking

A young man smokes a cigarette on his bed and is at risk for insomnia, snoring, and sleep apnea
A young man smokes a cigarette on his bed and is at risk for insomnia, snoring, and sleep apnea. Getty Images

If you or a loved one smokes cigarettes, you may wonder: How does smoking cigarettes affect sleep? Learn about the potential contribution to insomnia, including sleep fragmentation, and to snoring and sleep apnea. Finally, consider the importance of safety and a few other reasons why you may want to stop smoking for your health.

The Role of Nicotine in Insomnia

Smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products like cigars can affect your sleep in several important ways.

It all has to do with the active ingredient, nicotine.

First, depending on your level of use and dependence, your desire for additional nicotine during your sleep may cause you to awaken and this may lead to insomnia. Nicotine itself is a stimulant and the use of it too close to bedtime may also make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

This being said, there are some people who report that smoking makes them feel sleepy. As it may relieve anxiety and cause some relaxation, this is possible, but most people will respond to its stimulating properties.

Sleep Changes That Occur with Smoking Cigarettes

Smoking also is associated with a disruption of the basic structure of sleep called sleep architecture. This is the pattern of sleep stages that occur during the night. It seems that smoking fragments sleep and leads to insomnia.

In a research study, it was shown that current smokers take slightly longer to fall asleep (called the sleep latency), sleep less, and have less deep sleep (called slow wave sleep).

Difficulty falling or staying asleep characterizes insomnia complaints.

For those who quit smoking, these differences in sleep architecture do not persist. It should be noted that those who have never smoked seem to have better sleep quality overall, however.

The Risks of Snoring and Sleep Apnea Among Smokers

There is also good evidence that smoking increases the likelihood of both snoring and sleep apnea.

Without going into the details about the harmful chemicals and pollutants present in cigarette smoke, these irritants may contribute to swelling of the airway, especially the soft tissues lining the nose and throat. As the tissues swell, airflow changes and the resulting vibration in sleep will cause snoring. In addition, the collapse of the airway that occurs in sleep apnea may be more likely. Even secondhand smoke may be a risk for these complications, especially in children who are exposed.

Reasons to Quit Smoking

Beyond the potential role in contributing to insomnia, snoring, and sleep apnea, your health will benefit from smoking cessation. Many people describe changes in their sleep after quitting cigarettes, and these will often improve over time. Your body may be addicted to the nicotine, but this addiction will fade gradually.

It is extremely important to never smoke in bed. If you fall asleep with a lit cigarette, there is a high risk of your bedding and house catching on fire. This risk is increased if alcohol is used.

For your safety, and the safety of your family, make a commitment to never smoke while lying down in bed.

There are a lot of reasons to quit smoking. If you have tried before, keep trying. Reach out to others for help, garnering support from your family, friends, and doctor. Nicotine replacement and the use of other smoking cessation medications can be highly effective. If you need help, start by speaking with your doctor about the best options for you. You will breathe and sleep better.

If you smoke and have disrupted sleep, this may be yet another reason why you should quit for your health and well-being.

Sources:

Phillips, BA et al. "Cigarette smoking and sleep disturbance." Arch Intern Med 1995; 155:734.

Wetter, DW et al. "The relation between cigarette smoking and sleep disturbance." Prev Med 1994; 23:328.

Zhang, L et al. "Cigarette smoking and nocturnal sleep architecture." Am J Epidemiol 2006; 164:529.

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