Doctors and researchers know that people who smoke cigarettes often develop problems with sleeplessness and other types of sleep disturbances. However, the underlying reasons for these disturbances are not entirely clear. In a study published in May 2014 in the journal Addiction Biology, researchers from over a dozen German institutions used a large-scale project to examine the connection between cigarette use and sleeping problems. The researchers also examined the role that nicotine addiction plays in establishing this connection.
Roughly 18 percent of all U.S. adults smoke cigarettes; when teenagers are factored into the equation, the overall rate of use rises to approximately 21 percent. In most cases, people who qualify as regular smokers have an addiction to nicotine, the psychoactive ingredient found in all tobacco products. As a rule, nicotine addiction becomes a possibility when a smoker uses cigarettes repeatedly and thereby frequently exposes the brain’s pleasure center to the drug. Repeated nicotine exposure can create lasting chemical changes in this center and trigger the onset of nicotine dependence. Nicotine addicts are nicotine-dependent people who develop symptoms such as recurring cravings for more nicotine intake/cigarette use, an inability to limit nicotine intake and continued use of nicotine despite the obvious harm produced by that use. Current evidence indicates that teenagers who start smoking can develop the first indications of nicotine dependence and addiction after consuming no more than five packs of cigarettes.
Sleep Disturbances and Smoking
Sleep disturbance is the general term for any problem that reduces your ability to fall asleep, sleep throughout the night or gain the restorative benefits of sleep. In many individuals, these disturbances are relatively minor and don’t cause any real life disruptions. However, some people develop sleep-related problems serious enough to merit an official diagnosis from a doctor. Conditions diagnosable as official sleep disorders include insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. In recent years, researchers from a number of institutions have explored the link between cigarette use and increased chances for experiencing minor or serious sleep disturbances. For example, in a study published in 2008 in the American College of Chest Physicians’ journal Chest, researchers from Johns Hopkins University concluded that cigarette smokers often have an unusual tendency to spend many of their sleeping hours in a relatively light state of sleep. The study’s authors concluded that temporary symptoms of nighttime nicotine withdrawal may help explain this tendency.
Nicotine Addiction and Sleep Disturbances
In the study published in Addiction Biology, researchers from the University of Bonn, Cologne University and more than a dozen other German institutions used information from 2,314 adults unaffected by mental illness to assess the connection between cigarette use and sleep disturbances. This group of adults included 1,071 cigarette smokers and 1,243 people with no history of smoking. The researchers used a well-known test called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index to identify the presence of sleeping problems in both the smokers and the non-smokers. Specific problems under consideration included failing to fall asleep soon after going to bed, failing to sleep for a sufficient number of hours per night and having an overall poor score for general sleep quality.
The researchers found that 28.1 percent of the smokers participating in the study had significant problems with sleep disturbances; in contrast, only 19.1 percent of the non-smokers had similar or identical problems. When the researchers took steps to account for the impact of other factors that can disrupt sleep, they found that the smokers still had a greater tendency to experience problems falling asleep, staying asleep and maintaining overall sleep quality. Next, the researchers looked at the connection between the degree of nicotine dependence/addiction in any given smoker and his or her chances of developing sleeping problems. They concluded that the risks for not getting enough sleep rise with both the degree of dependence/addiction present and the frequency of cigarette use.
The authors of the study published in Addiction Biology believe they are the first researchers to uncover the heightened risks for sleep disturbances in cigarette smokers who have never been affected by a mental illness. They note that these risks remain in effect even when other possible sleep disturbance-related factors are taken into account. Based on these findings, they believe that cigarette use may be an important avoidable risk for the development of both insufficient nighttime sleep in particular, and poor sleep quality in general.