How Smoking Cigarettes Harms Your Sleep

Patient Expert
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If your evening routine includes an alcoholic drink and a cigarette, you should be aware that both can harm your sleep. Alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, but it reduces overall sleep quality.

Smoking can have an even more detrimental effect.

Research published in 2014 set out to determine the impact of smoking on a U.S.-based national sample of adults aged 20 and above. A total of 4,973 adults were included, and this sample was made up of:

  • Current smokers (smoke every day or some days, and have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime)
  • Former smokers (do not currently smoke, but have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime)
  • Never smokers (have not smoked 100 cigarettes in their lifetime)

What made this research of particular interest was the fact it included not only self-reported data, but data collected from physical exams, too. This made the results more reliable since, for example, researchers were able to exclude those who claimed they didn’t smoke but whose blood results suggested otherwise.

The sleep problems associated with smoking

Researchers found significant differences between all three smoking groups when evaluating difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking during the night.

With that being said, the most significant differences were observed between never smokers and current smokers:

  • 11.9 percent of current smokers reported difficulty falling asleep (compared with just 4.8 percent of never smokers)
  • 10.6 percent of current smokers reported waking in the night (compared with just 5.3 percent of never smokers)
  • 9.5 percent of current smokers reported waking too early in the morning (compared with just 4.6 percent of never smokers).

Current smokers also took significantly longer to fall asleep and spent less time asleep compared with both former smokers and never smokers.

Why does smoking harm sleep?

Nicotine appears to play the strongest role here. As the authors of the study pointed out, not only does nicotine act as a stimulant, but withdrawal symptoms (due to trying to quit or withdrawal during the course of sleep) have been linked to insomnia and other sleep disturbances.

Separate research published in 2008 found that smokers had lower concentrations of oxygen in their blood during sleep — a symptom linked with obstructive sleep apnea.

How to improve your sleep if you smoke

Of course, the best thing you can do to improve your sleep if you currently smoke is to quit smoking!

Although this study found that former smokers did not enjoy the same levels of sleep quality as never smokers, their sleep was significantly better than that of current smokers.

If you’re struggling to quit, though, there are some things you can do to reduce the negative effect of smoking on your sleep.

Reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke

Simply reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke may improve your sleep. Researchers found that for every cigarette smoked, total sleep time was reduced by 1.2 minutes.

Reduce stress

The authors of this study pointed out that many smokers report higher levels of stress compared with nonsmokers. Taking steps to reduce stress and anxiety can have a positive impact on sleep.

Exercise

Research published in 2017 found that smokers who did not exercise had a higher risk of incident insomnia compared with smokers who burned at least 1,000 calories per week.

Pursue alternative forms of relaxation

You might smoke to relax, but smoking actually stimulates your body and increases arousal. Try practicing some of these breathing and relaxation techniques for sleep instead.

See More Helpful Articles:

The Smart Way to Fight Insomnia With Exercise

Why Poor Sleep Is a Risk Factor for Alcohol and Cannabis Use

How Your Mind Affects Sleep Even with Insomnia from Anxiety, Depression