Smoking and Insomnia

Woman with insomnia holding a cup

You’ve made the decision to quit smoking and that’s amazing. But now you could be worried about not getting a good night’s sleep.

Sleep disturbance is a recognised symptom of nicotine withdrawal. While this may be inconvenient in the short-term, the good news is this withdrawal symptom is only temporary — and stopping smoking is still one of the best things you can do for your health.

So, if you’re considering quitting and are worried about the effects on your sleep patterns, don’t be put off. Not everyone will experience sleep issues as a smoking withdrawal symptom and, if you do, it will typically only last a few weeks. There are also plenty of simple steps you can take to try and change your sleeping habits to help you drift off.

how to get to sleep when quitting how to get to sleep when quitting

Why do some people get sleep disturbance when they quit smoking?

Some people will experience disturbed sleep as a withdrawal symptom when they quit smoking.

However, not everyone will, as sleep disturbance occurs in less than 25% of cases of people quitting smoking. If you do start to experience these symptoms, remember that they are all part of the tobacco withdrawal process and will usually last less than four weeks.

The reason some people struggle to sleep after quitting smoking is because of the fluctuations in the levels of certain neurotransmitters caused by nicotine stimulation. Tobacco is a stimulant, so while disturbed sleep may be a temporary withdrawal symptom of quitting, smoking itself can cause insomnia.

People who smoke can often take longer to fall asleep, have more disturbed sleep patterns, and wake up more frequently. Nicotine can also make the inside of the nose and airways swell, which can affect your breathing while you’re sleeping. On top of that, it can also make you more likely to suffer from a condition called obstructive sleep apnoea, which can stop you being able to sleep.

The good news is that stopping smoking can be a change in habit that actually helps treat insomnia, so you’ll be better off in the long-term.

Woman with a headache

What to do if you can’t sleep after quitting smoking

Try not to worry if you start to experience symptoms of insomnia after quitting smoking. Sleep disturbance as a withdrawal symptom will typically only last around four weeks, and there are a few simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference in the meantime:

1) Try to stick to a regular sleeping routine
Changing your sleeping habits to create a more regular routine can help improve symptoms of insomnia. Make an effort to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. It’s also a good idea to avoid napping throughout the day or sleeping in after a bad night’s sleep, to help maintain regular sleeping hours.

2) Use relaxation techniques (and switch screens off)
Try to relax at least one hour before going to bed, whether that’s by reading a book, listening to music, meditating, or having a warm bath.

It’s also recommended that you avoid screens before bed, including phones, laptops, and TVs, as the bright lights from these devices can make you feel more restless and awake.

3) Reduce your caffeine intake
Another way to help relieve insomnia as a withdrawal symptom is to limit your caffeine intake, as the effects of caffeine is also another common cause of insomnia4, so you should avoid drinking any for at least six hours before going to bed4. If you enjoy a hot drink before bed, consider swapping your tea or coffee for herbal tea like chamomile, peppermint, or ginger tea, which are free from caffeine.

4) Get comfortable
As you settle in for a good night’s sleep, it’s important to create a peaceful environment to help you drift off. You should make sure your mattress, covers, and pillow are comfortable and there aren’t any unwanted lumps and bumps to disturb you. Ensure your room is dark enough to eliminate distractions. Black-out blinds, thick curtains, or an eye mask should do the trick.

5) Don’t eat and drink too much before bed
Over-indulging on food late at night can end up interrupting your sleeping patterns. Try to avoid eating heavy meals before trying to sleep. Similarly, alcohol should be avoided at least six hours before bed. Even if it might initially help you drift off, it will most likely end up disrupting your sleep later.

6) Make a plan for the next day
When you’re trying to sleep, it’s not unusual for all the worries and responsibilities for the next day to be running through your head, keeping you awake. To combat this, it’s a good idea to set some time aside before bed to write down anything that’s bothering you and make a plan for the following day. Hopefully, setting everything out in front of you will help make your worries seem a little more manageable, meaning your mind will be clearer when you get into bed.

7) Exercise throughout the day
Regular moderate exercise can help relieve tension. This doesn’t have to be an intense workout, and can include walking, swimming, and yoga. Although it’s great to keep active throughout the day, you should avoid vigorous exercise four hours before bed, as this can keep you awake.

Man riding a bicycle

8) Get up if you can’t sleep
Rather than just staring at the ceiling getting more frustrated that you can’t drift off, you should get up if you can’t sleep. Try to do something you find relaxing, such as reading, writing, or meditating, until you feel sleepy enough to go back to bed.

9) Consult a pharmacist
If you’ve been struggling with insomnia for several weeks, especially if you’ve not had success with lifestyle changes, you should speak to your pharmacist or GP to see what other treatment options are available.

10) Stop smoking
Disturbed sleep is only a temporary withdrawal symptom of quitting smoking and should settle within a few weeks. It’s important to remember that this will pass and the long-term benefits of stopping smoking will bring lots of health benefits.

Why do you get insomnia when you quit smoking?

Disturbed sleep is a common side effect of tobacco withdrawal. This is because nicotine can affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Not everyone will be affected by disturbed sleep when quitting smoking, though, and if you do you should only experience this withdrawal symptom for a few weeks. Tobacco is a stimulant, meaning smoking can be a common cause of insomnia, so quitting can help to improve your sleep in the long run.

Does smoking stop you sleeping?

Yes, it’s quite common for people who smoke to suffer from more disrupted sleep, take longer to fall asleep, and wake up more often. This is due to nicotine being a stimulant.

How long does insomnia last after quitting smoking?

Usually, withdrawal symptoms of insomnia and sleep disturbance will last for less than four weeks after you quit smoking. If you experience any longer lasting issues with insomnia, and changes to your sleeping habits aren’t working, you should speak to your GP.

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