How Smoking Affects Sleep Apnea

The health risks from smoking have been well publicized for many years. However, the impact of smoking on the quality of your sleep could be another reason to leave cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and vapes alone.

Studies show how smoking may increase the risk of sleep problems by up to 50%. It could also be a contributing factor in sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

How Are Smoking and Sleep Apnea Linked?

The common link between tobacco products and most vaping products is nicotine. Not only is nicotine highly addictive, but it is also a stimulant whose effect is fast-acting on the body.

Hormones released by this stimulant can cause an increase in your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, all of which can negatively impact the quality of your sleep.

Sleep is a key restorative tool. Sleep deprivation from disrupted sleep over a prolonged period of time increases your risk of serious health problems. The changes in the body caused by nicotine can result in lighter sleep, with less time in the restorative stages of deep sleep.

As nicotine is a stimulant, smokers find it harder to fall asleep. They are also prone to waking more often through the night because they spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep – and they awaken more easily.

The cumulative impact is a drop in sleep quality and an increased risk of sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

While smoking in itself may not cause sleep apnea, it can be a contributing risk factor. Poor sleep and frequent night-time awakenings are symptoms of sleep apnea -- and could be worsened by tobacco and vaping products. 

How Nicotine-related Snoring Could Also Be a Contributing Factor

Smokers tend to snore, which is also associated with sleep apnea. Snoring is caused by air turbulence resulting from a narrowing or obstruction of the airways.

A study of 811 adults reports smokers were two to three times more likely to snore than non-smokers. When smoking, you irritate the tissues that line your airways. This can lead to inflammation as well as an increase in mucus production -- which results in a narrowing of the airways.

The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. When the muscles in the throat relax as you sleep, they collapse into the airways and can cause breathing pauses. The body is prompted by the brain to wake for air, a process that can happen hundreds of times every night, resulting in sleep deprivation and excessive daytime fatigue.

Therefore, if smoking introduces the conditions that cause a narrowing of the upper airways, it could increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. 

For someone already diagnosed with this sleep disorder, continuing to smoke could worsen the condition and nullify any treatment plan.

Research shows that the heavier the smoker, the more likely you are to snore. This could therefore increase your risk of developing a disorder like sleep apnea. 

However, even an occasional smoker increases their risk from the health-related issues linked to smoking including cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Ditching the Nicotine

Along with the health risks linked to smoking, including sleep disorders, snoring makes life difficult for a partner too. 

If you continue to use tobacco or vaping products, put them to one side at least four hours before going to bed. This can help offset some of the effects of the rapidly working nicotine stimulant.

The best solution is to quit smoking altogether. However, as nicotine is a highly addictive product, this can be a difficult task -- one that will require support from your healthcare provider, family, friends and work colleagues. 

A good support network is essential in successfully ditching nicotine-based products.

Your healthcare provider can offer advice and point you in the direction of resources and professionals to help you kick the smoking habit. One possibility is the use of nicotine replacement therapy.

Nicotine patches, gum or lozenges may be recommended to help when you quit smoking. These items can help deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms as you look to stop using what is an addictive chemical. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Hunger
  • Irritability
  • Nicotine cravings
  • Problems with concentration
  • Headaches

On the plus side, the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms tends to fade after a week. The extent and length of withdrawal symptoms will differ from person to person -- and may be influenced by how heavy a smoker you were and for how long you smoked. 

Withdrawal symptoms from any addictive substance can be difficult and that is why a good support network is pivotal for success. 

Ways to Manage Sleep When You Quit Smoking

Nicotine-withdrawal symptoms and nicotine replacement therapy products can also affect your sleep, although this will be temporary. The following are three tips to help you sleep while you quit smoking.

1. Exercise

Maintain or introduce regular exercise to your day. As well as making you tired, exercise can help manage your nicotine cravings. However, avoid exercising too close to bedtime as this may impact on your sleep.

2. Remove Nicotine Replacement Therapy Close to Bedtime

Some people can experience sleep issues when using patches, gum or lozenges to help them quit smoking. You should stop using them for at least an hour before going to bed.

3. Reduce Caffeine Intake

Ideally, you want to stop drinking caffeine-based products after lunch and at least 8 hours before going to bed. When you quit smoking, the effects of caffeine can linger longer in the body.

Quitting smoking offers the potential for a healthier lifestyle, including better sleep. Smoking can lead to snoring and can be a contributing factor in sleep apnea. Consult with your healthcare provider for advice on how to kick your nicotine habit.