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How Do Drugs Affect Sleep?

High-quality sleep keeps you physically and mentally healthy. Getting a good night’s rest is refreshing, helps you think more clearly, and improves your mood.

However, if you or someone you know has ever struggled with drug addiction, then you’ve experienced or seen first-hand how it affects sleep quality. Those living with substance use disorder also often find themselves suffering from insomnia.

But how exactly do drugs affect sleep? How can you start your recovery?

This blog is here to answer these questions and more.

What Kinds of Drugs Affect Sleep?

Based on research from the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research, substance use disorders (SUD) are linked to heightened sleep disruption.

Unfortunately, it’s a circular relationship as this insomnia is often what prompts people to use as their preferred substance helps them sleep. Using causes a separate set of sleeping issues, essentially trapping someone in a lose-lose situation.

There are seven categories of drugs, each with harmful effects.

Depressants—such as alcohol and benzodiazepines—often have a sedative effect that makes it easier to fall asleep. However, these drugs disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle, reducing sleep quality for a not-so-restful night.

Let’s further break down their effects and the internal factors affecting sleep.

How Stimulants Affect Sleep

Stimulants are a type of drug that energize their user, with constant use leading to increased wakefulness, higher levels of brain activity, and, therefore, lack of sleep.

Drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy limit the potential for REM sleep, which can lead to sleep deprivation that is harmful to your brain’s cognitive performance.

Amphetamines and other stimulants also increase the levels of dopamine that your body releases while under the influence. This affects brain function and, ultimately, reduces sleep quality as your brain is deprived of other neurotransmitters.

Opioids and Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is defined as your healthy habits, traits, and other external factors that you adjust to maximize the quality of sleep you get each night.

While some sleeping problems are formed due to bad sleeping habits reinforced over the years, this can usually be remedied by good routines and the avoidance of drugs. However, if you suffer from SUD, particularly opioids, you might find it difficult to get a good amount of rest each night.

Although these drugs often have a drowsy effect on the user, they can also cause overall restlessness and insomnia—especially if the person is heavily addicted. As a result, opioid users are at a higher risk of sleep apnea.

A visibly tired man struggles to stay awake.

What About Other Drugs?

Other substances—such as caffeine, nicotine, and marijuana—may be legal but can still affect your sleep cycle. For instance, drinking too much coffee is liable to leave you feeling restless and unable to wind down and fall asleep

If you smoke before bedtime, you might have trouble maintaining sleep without experiencing nightmares or feel as though you wake up easily during the night.

If you use marijuana as a sleep aid because of its sedating effects, you might feel like it helps you fall asleep quicker, stay asleep, and feel well-rested. However, these are just short-term benefits that come with serious long-term complications. Marijuana decreases your REM sleep, causing odd and vivid dreams for months even after you’ve quit.

Abusing so-called “study drugs” meant to treat disorders such as ADHD can also lead to similar problems as cocaine or amphetamines. Like those drugs, they are powerful stimulants and can wire someone for hours who isn’t used to taking them. This unfortunately is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation in students.

Why Is Sleep Quality Important?

Studies have shown that persistent sleep disturbances are a risk factor for relapse, so it’s crucial to get a good amount of sleep every night.

Most people need at least 7 hours of sleep each night to feel well-rested, energized, and refreshed in the morning. However, sleep quality matters, too.

You might not be getting the kind of rest you need if you find yourself:

  • Often having trouble falling asleep
  • Constantly waking up throughout the night
  • Still tired even after a long night’s rest
  • Napping throughout the day

Typically, a “good night’s sleep” is the by-product of a solid sleep schedule. This means going to bed at roughly the same time every day, getting up at the same time, and probably following a similar pre-sleep routine every night.

 A close-up photo of an alarm clock with a person in the background sleeping.

How Can You Improve Sleep Quality?

There are plenty of external factors affecting sleep. Whether you’re struggling with an addiction or just looking to improve the quality of your sleep, you should start incorporating some of the following tips into your routine:

  • Personalizing your sleep space: Ensure that your room is cool, calm, dark, and distraction-free. A room that’s too noisy or full of electronics can make falling asleep more difficult.
  • Set your bedtime routine: Having a bedtime routine makes it easier to get in bed at the same time each night.
  • Make good choices during the day: This means limiting your caffeine intake, avoiding harmful substances, and increasing your physical activity. What you eat affects your sleep so make good dietary decisions, too.

Your Journey to Recovery Starts Here

So, how do drugs affect sleep?

It depends on the drug and your habits. Even if drugs make it easier to fall asleep, they’re liable to leave you feeling less rested when you wake up.

Substance abuse disorder can be difficult to treat on your own, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recover from it safely. At Freedom From Addiction, we’re ready to help you regain control over your habits—and your sleep schedule.

Contact us today and a member of our team will get back to you shortly.


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