How Nicotine Affects Your Sleep

Pietari Nurmi
Mar 19 · 4 min read

The chances are that you are aware of how damaging smoking is to your health even if you were smoking yourself. What you might not know, however, is how nicotine affects your sleep.

Nicotine is a stimulant and it affects your sleep much like caffeine. The stimulating effect of nicotine impairs your sleep mostly during the early part of the night. Smokers often have difficulties falling asleep and dozing off takes more time. They also tend to get less sleep than other people.

Smoking reduces the amount of deep sleep making sleep shift towards lighter stages. As sleep gets superficial it is not as refreshing as it should be. Poor sleep quality results in prolonged tiredness and fatigue and can cause serious health issues in the long term.

Nicotine affects your sleep also indirectly. During the night the amount of nicotine in your bloodstream decreases. If you are a habitual smoker this will cause withdrawal symptoms in your body. Even mild symptoms can impair your sleep quality drastically. Sleep consistency suffers and interruptions are more likely to occur. If the nicotine deficit becomes too strong for your body to bear you will wake up no matter what the time is. Often this happens way too early depriving smokers of the sleep they need.

What makes nicotine even more troublesome compared to some other substances is the tendency to use it regularly and on a daily basis. (It is much more commonly accepted to be a habitual smoker than an alcoholic, don’t you agree?) If nicotine becomes a part of your daily routines it also affects your sleep every single night. One poorly slept night is not a big deal, but if you keep on depriving yourself of proper sleep for months or even years, you can just imagine how bad the effects will stack.

What if I quit?

In terms of sleep quality and overall health quitting nicotine completely is without a doubt the best option. Because of the withdrawal symptoms, you might have trouble sleeping in the first nights after quitting, but we promise that the temporary discomfort is worth it. After surviving the first harsh weeks you will be sleeping sounder than ever during the time you spent on a nicotine hook. You can also ease the withdrawal effects by paying special attention to good sleep hygiene practices.

More on quitting smoking:

What if I cut down?

Quitting smoking and other nicotine products at once might feel overwhelming. The good news is that you can improve your sleep quality (to some extent) just by reducing your daily nicotine intake. The basic principle is similar to caffeine use: the closer to the bedtime it gets the stronger it will affect your sleep. That is why you should start by cutting down on late evening nicotine hits first.

If you are a heavy user, you might experience some withdrawal effects. If you find the symptoms giving you sleep troubles it might be tempting to light up a cigarette just before bed. Instead of giving in to the temptation, the better option is to start to gradually increase the time between nicotine doses. This way your body will get used to surviving longer periods without nicotine in the bloodstream.

Additional Reading

Zhang, L., Samet, J., Caffo, B., & Punjabi, N. M. (2006). Cigarette smoking and nocturnal sleep architecture. American Journal of Epidemiology, 164(6), 529–537.