Sleep is not only important for boosting our mental health and productivity, but also for maintaining a healthy immune system and preventing serious illnesses like heart disease.
Getting those all-important eight hours might be easier said than done if you smoke or are starting your quitting journey.
In this article, we take a look at the way smoking affects your sleep cycle, answering questions like does smoking help you sleep and can stopping smoking make you tired. We also have some tips to help you deal with stop smoking insomnia and improve your sleep cycle today.
Does smoking help you sleep?
Before we explore how quitting affects how you sleep, let’s look at how smoking can impact your sleep cycle.
When you smoke, the nicotine from cigarettes enters your body and stimulates the release of several chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) like serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters can cause pleasurable feelings and a sense of wellbeing, which could make it easier to feel relaxed at bedtime and fall asleep.1
But, these neurotransmitters can also affect your sleep cycle and lead to a worse night’s sleep overall. Smokers often have trouble falling asleep and experience more disturbed sleep than non-smokers. In fact, up to 24% of smokers experience shallower, more disturbed sleep.2 Research has also shown that smokers spend more time sleeping lightly and less time in deep sleep than non-smokers.3
All these factors mean smokers often get lower quality sleep, leading to difficulty getting up in the morning and feeling sleepy throughout the day1, no matter how long they slept that night.
So, now we know that smoking can negatively affect your sleep cycle, how does quitting impact the way you sleep?
Trouble sleeping better after quitting smoking
While smoking can disturb your sleep pattern, stopping smoking can make you feel tired too.
Many people experience extreme fatigue after quitting smoking because of how much nicotine is in a cigarette, which can lead to nicotine withdrawal. As your body reacts to the lower levels of nicotine and other chemicals throughout the day, you can end up feeling tired out and lethargic.4
If you’ve smoked for a long time, you may also experience withdrawal symptoms during the night when you give up smoking. Withdrawal and cravings can lead to disturbed sleep and may even be strong enough to wake you up at night.5
Up to 42% of people also experience insomnia when they quit smoking, a common sleep problem that makes it harder to fall or stay asleep2. This is again caused by nicotine withdrawal.
While this information might put you off quitting, there are ways to manage these symptoms and improve your sleep once you stop smoking.
How to quit smoking and sleep better with NRT
If you’ve quit smoking and can’t sleep, NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) can be a good way to improve your sleeping patterns.
NRT is a form of medication that provides your body with a low level of nicotine, without the tar, carbon monoxide and other harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke.6 This low dose of nicotine can help you deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings, leading to better sleep over time.
There are different types of NRT, including patches, lozenges, gums and sprays. If you’re a heavy smoker, patches might be the best option for dealing with stop smoking insomnia as they can be worn throughout the night and supply your body with nicotine while you sleep. This can help you stay asleep and avoid being woken up by cravings.
Using patches can also help improve the quality of your sleep as nicotine levels in your body reduce over time.1
If you’d like to try NRT, speak to your pharmacist or doctor or contact your local NHS stop smoking service for more information.
Tips for sleeping better after quitting smoking
When you quit smoking, your sleep patterns should improve gradually, but if you’re struggling to fall or stay asleep, take a look at these tips for relieving insomnia after quitting smoking:
- Exercise – doing gentle exercise like walking or yoga a few hours before bed can make you feel more tired and help you fall asleep faster.
- Cut down your caffeine intake – since smokers metabolize caffeine much faster than non-smokers, you don’t need as much caffeine to feel the effects when you’re quitting smoking. Reduce your intake to avoid feeling irritable and jittery from being over-caffeinated.
- Reduce your alcohol intake – while alcohol might help you fall asleep at first, it can limit REM sleep (the type of deep sleep that helps us feel rested the next day). Alcohol can also disrupt your sleep, making you wake up throughout the night and feel even more tired in the morning.
- Plan a relaxing evening – having a relaxing evening routine or listening to soothing music should help you drift off easily at bedtime. You could even try meditation or a warm bath to relax your mind and muscles at the end of the day.
- Drink herbal tea – there are lots of herbal tea ingredients that can help you sleep, including camomile and valerian root. Pick some up at the supermarket and try it next time you’re struggling to fall asleep.
- Limit your screen time before bed – using electronics like smartphones, laptops and tablets before bed can make it harder to sleep. Try putting your screens away a couple of hours before bedtime and replacing screentime with a relaxing activity like reading.
- Go for a massage – whether you get a professional treatment or some help from a partner, a massage can be another great way to relax your body and unwind for a good night’s sleep.
- Don’t nap during the day – if you’ve quit smoking and feel tired during the day, try not to nap. While you may feel worse at first, saving your sleep for bedtime can help you tackle insomnia in the long run.4
Quitting smoking can make you tired at first, but the long-term health benefits of stopping the habit and improving your sleep cycle are well worth it.