People who ingest nicotine may take around 5–25 minutes longer than nonsmokers to fall asleep. People who smoke cigarettes also generally sleep for a shorter time than those who do not smoke. They tend to experience more sleep disturbances as well.

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant substance in cigarettes, tobacco, e-cigarettes, and vapes. The substance makes it difficult for people to stop smoking, which can lead to severe health complications. Nicotine use also contributes to sleep impairment.

Researchers associate nicotine with sleep disruption more strongly than both alcohol and caffeine. Poor sleep may lead to other health complications, such as:

  • increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • obesity
  • poorer cognitive performance
  • mental and emotional impairment

This article looks at how nicotine affects sleep quality, how long nicotine can keep a person awake, and factors that can influence how long nicotine remains in the body. It also discusses what smokers can do to minimize the impact of nicotine on sleep and offers tips for improving sleep.

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Nicotine may affect a person’s sleep quality in several ways.

These include:

  • Nicotine withdrawal: During sleep, a person may experience nicotine withdrawal, triggering cravings and increasing restlessness. This may result in poor quality sleep or cause the person to wake up.
  • Stimulation: Nicotine is a stimulant. Stimulants are substances that speed up systems in the body and can cause periods of extended wakefulness. If someone uses nicotine near bedtime, it may disrupt specific neurotransmitters involved in the sleep process, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep.
  • Disruption of the circadian rhythm: People who smoke may experience a disruption of their natural circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm follows a natural cycle of sleeping and waking, according to the brain’s responses to the sun’s light/dark cycle. A disruption to this cycle can result in fragmented or poor quality sleep.
  • Increase in snoring and sleep apnea: People who smoke may have a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring, as smoking can cause respiratory inflammation and restrict a person’s oxygen flow. Snoring occurs when air travels past relaxed tissues in the throat and causes a noise. When a person has sleep apnea, they repeatedly stop and start breathing during sleep. Both snoring and sleep apnea can affect sleep quality.

Learn why sleep is essential for health.

A 2019 research review reports that people who smoke cigarettes can take 5–25 minutes longer than nonsmokers to fall asleep.

Researchers note that 80% of smokers regularly experienced sleep disturbances and slept for shorter periods than nonsmokers. Researchers also found that people who smoke were more likely to report feeling tired during the day than nonsmokers.

Although nicotine use may not prevent people from falling asleep, it may cause them to wake during the night and cause poor quality sleep overall.

The time it takes for the body to clear nicotine can vary between individuals.

When a person inhales, chews, or absorbs nicotine, the body absorbs the substance into the bloodstream. Enzymes in the liver then break down the nicotine into a substance called cotinine. The kidneys then expel cotinine out of the body as urine.

Various factors can influence the speed at which the liver and kidneys remove nicotine and cotinine from the body. These include:

  • The amount of nicotine a person ingests: People who use nicotine more frequently and in larger amounts may have the substance in their system for longer.
  • Genetics: People of African ancestry have a genotype that may cause them to metabolize cotinine more slowly than people of other ancestries.
  • Body mass: Fatty tissue in the body can store nicotine so that nicotine may remain in the body for longer in people with a higher body mass.
  • Age: As a person ages, the function of the liver decreases. Research has found that in people ages 65 years and over, there is a 35% decrease in the liver’s blood volume.
  • Medication and diet: Certain medications and foods can affect how the liver functions, which may impact how quickly the liver can clear nicotine from the body.

Read more about how long nicotine stays in your system.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that people who ingested nicotine within 4 hours of bedtime experienced worse sleep continuity. Researchers suggest a person should avoid nicotine before bedtime to help improve sleep quality.

However, stopping smoking completely, or for several hours before bedtime, may result in withdrawal symptoms, contributing to insomnia and other sleep disturbances.

Some sleep therapies that may help a person cope with stopping smoking include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help people change their thought and behavior patterns. CBT can help treat insomnia related to nicotine withdrawal in various ways, including identifying and replacing unhelpful attitudes and beliefs about insomnia and sleep. CBT can also help a person develop healthy sleep habits.
  • Medication: A doctor may recommend medication to help treat insomnia or poor quality sleep. Melatonin supplements can help boost the hormone melatonin, which communicates to the body that it is time to sleep.

Insomnia and other sleep disturbances typically recede with time after a person has stopped smoking.

Read about tips for giving up smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following steps may help a person improve their sleep:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Avoid heavy meals before bed.
  • Be physically active during the day.
  • Avoid using computers, televisions, phones, tablets, e-books, or other screens in bed.
  • Ensure the bedroom is relaxing, dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Get to bed and wake up around the same time every day, including on weekends.

Resources for healthy sleep

To discover more evidence-based information and resources on the science of healthy sleep, visit our dedicated hub.

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Nicotine can affect a person’s sleep quality by causing withdrawal symptoms at night and acting as a stimulant. People who smoke cigarettes tend to take longer to fall asleep and experience more sleep disturbances, resulting in poorer quality sleep.

A lack of quality sleep can lead to higher risks of various health conditions, including obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Not smoking near bedtime, CBT, and medication to treat insomnia may help treat sleep disturbances that nicotine causes. While a person may experience sleep disturbances if they stop smoking permanently, this typically improves over time.