How Smoking Affects Your Sleep

There are plenty of compelling reasons to quit smoking, and recent research has uncovered one more: Smokers don't sleep as well as nonsmokers. In fact, they're about four times less likely to report refreshing sleep. One surprising reason? Nicotine withdrawal.

Nicotine is a stimulant, meaning that people who smoke all day typically have a tough time falling asleep until the nicotine leaves their system. Yet that very nicotine withdrawal contributes to poor quality sleep night after night that leaves the smoker unrefreshed.

To prove this theory, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore recruited 40 smokers who were free of underlying health problems that could cause sleep disturbances (an admitted challenge) and 40 similarly matched nonsmokers. The participants' brain activity, limb movements, and breathing were measured and they were asked questions about the quality of their sleep.

An analysis of the results revealed that sleep quality between the smokers and non-smokers differed most markedly at the very beginning of sleep, when the lingering effects of nicotine would be strongest. During the night the smokers achieved less deep sleep than the nonsmokers; indeed, 22.5 percent of the smokers reported that they did not have a restful sleep compared with just five percent of the nonsmokers.

The study team is hopeful that understanding the mechanisms by which nicotine affects sleep will allow researchers to come up with new and better ways to help people quit smoking without suffering from insomnia. It's well known that sleep disturbances are one reason that many people have a tough time kicking the habit.

Of course, smoking often leads to respiratory and cardiac conditions that can disrupt sleep just as nicotine withdrawal can. No matter what the primary reason is for unsatisfying sleep, it's well worth the trouble for smokers to wean themselves from the habit as soon as possible—lack of sleep can be just as devastating as breathing and heart issues.


American College of Chest Physicians. "Smoking Linked to Sleep Disturbances."