How Substance Abuse Affects Your Sleep

How Substance Abuse Affects Sleep

Most kinds of substance abuse disrupts sleep.

Addiction and sleep problems are intertwined in many unexpected and complex ways. Although using certain substances can cause sleep disturbances, the opposite can also be true: sleep disturbances can fuel substance abuse, leading to a never-ending cycle of poor sleep, substance abuse, and all the negative side effects that come with it.

Whether you’re trying to stop using drugs but are struggling due to sleep issues or you’re self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to try to get some shut-eye, treating both issues is likely the key to finding a solution in recovery.

Related post: What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

What Drugs Affect Your Sleep?

According to the National Institute on Drug Use (NIDA), researchers now know that most kinds of substance abuse disrupts sleep regulatory systems in the brain. As a result, many substances have a negative impact on the time it takes for you to fall asleep, how long you sleep, and the overall quality of your sleep.1

Although this is not a comprehensive list by any means, here are some of the most commonly abused illegal drugs that can negatively affect your sleep:1,2

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine

Some over-the-counter medications can also cause sleep disturbances, especially if they are misused, such as:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • Some antidepressants
  • Pseudoephedrine 
  • Some cough medicines
  • Medicines with caffeine in them
  • Allergy or asthma medicine

What are the Effects of Substance Abuse On Sleep?

Generally speaking, drug use causes chemical changes in the body that can affect your circadian rhythm (your sleep-wake cycle). Chronic drug use interferes with the circuits and chemistry of the brain, sometimes resulting in short-term and long-term sleep issues like insomnia and sleep apnea. Drug use and drug withdrawal can also make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

However, to fully understand the effects of substance abuse on sleep, it’s best to look at a few different types of commonly abused drugs individually.

Opioid drugs

Opioids like heroin bind to mu-opioid receptors in the body. This system plays a role in regulating sleep. Although opioids can cause significant drowsiness and sleepiness, they can also greatly disrupt sleep by increasing the transitions between different stages of sleep and reducing the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you get. Additionally, if opioids are taken at high doses, they can inhibit breathing during sleep, which can be very dangerous.3

Stimulant drugs

Stimulant drugs make people feel very alert and awake, which can make it difficult to fall asleep. They also make changes to neurotransmitters that can lead to prolonged sleep difficulties. For example, cocaine produces energy and euphoria with a short-term increase in dopamine levels in the brain. This can interfere with sleep and chronic cocaine use can reduce REM sleep, which can cause extreme fatigue and memory problems during the day. Even when you stop using cocaine, sleep disruptions can last for months, as it takes time for the body’s neurotransmitters and circadian rhythm to rebalance.


Hallucinogen drugs like LSD or Molly enhance feelings of alertness, which can make falling asleep difficult, especially if you take them close to bedtime. These substances can also disrupt sleep by interfering with a neurotransmitter known as serotonin. Your body uses serotonin to synthesize melatonin, which is produced at night and plays an important role in regulating your body’s natural sleep cycles.


Drugs like alcohol and marijuana might seem like they help you sleep because they produce feelings of relaxation and calmness. However, the opposite is true. These substances actually have a negative impact on your sleep. For example, you might fall asleep more quickly after consuming a lot of alcohol, but the quality of your sleep will likely be worse. Alcohol can even contribute to sleep apnea and nightmares.3 

Can Sleep Disorders Cause Addiction?

Yes, just as substance abuse can cause sleep issues, the same can be true of sleep disorders. People who regularly experience sleep problems may be more likely to develop substance use disorders. 

For example, people who suffer from insomnia may have an increased risk of developing drug or alcohol addiction because they often try to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs that make them feel relaxed or drowsy. Or, they may abuse stimulant drugs to combat the fatigue they experience during the day due to loss of sleep.

Additionally, when people don’t get enough sleep, their willpower and self-control also suffer. This can make it more difficult for people in recovery to stay sober or may increase a person’s likelihood that they will make risky or harmful decisions regarding substance use.

The relationship between sleep, brain development, and mental health is complex. More research is needed to further explore the links between substance abuse and sleep disorders, but research indicates that sleep problems and addiction are closely related. With more research, we can better identify treatment options for people who suffer from insomnia, substance use disorders, and other similar co-occurring disorders.

Drug Withdrawal and Sleep: What to Expect

Many people experience insomnia during drug withdrawal, which can fuel cravings and lead to relapse. It’s frequently cited as one of the most distressing symptoms of drug withdrawal. Not surprisingly, it’s often more difficult for people to quit drugs or alcohol without professional assistance because withdrawal symptoms like insomnia can make staying sober very challenging. 

For example, poor sleep quality can affect how the brain consolidates memories. This can reduce a person’s ability to learn new coping and self-regulation skills that are necessary for recovery.1 A lack of sleep will also affect a person’s self-control, which will increase their risk of relapse. In fact, some of the strongest evidence of sleep disturbances’ role in substance abuse relates to the increased risk of relapse.4

Sleep helps the body and mind recover, which is essential for recovery. With medication-assisted detox, a team of medical professionals will treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal, including sleep problems, to help clients overcome their addiction(s) and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms like insomnia.

After detox, it may also be necessary for clients to continue receiving treatment for any sleep disorders they are experiencing in recovery. With the right support and treatment, people are much more likely to maintain long-lasting sobriety and avoid relapse.

Related post: What Are Common Drug Withdrawal Symptoms?

Sleep Disorders and Addiction Treatment

If you struggle with insomnia or another sleep disorder that is keeping you from achieving a stable life of sobriety, call Briarwood Detox Center today to learn more about our medication-assisted detox programs. We can help you get sober by treating both your sleep disorder(s) and your addiction so you can fully heal and focus on your recovery.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/03/connections-between-sleep-substance-use-disorders 
  2. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/sleep-substance-abuse 
  3. https://ascpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13722-016-0056-7 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4660250/ 

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