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Why Smoking May Worsen Sleep Apnoea

Sleep Apnoea

Why Smoking May Worsen Sleep Apnoea

Today everybody accepts that smoking is damaging to health and is a habit best avoided. However, it remains one of the leading causes of preventable death. And it is both a stimulant and an irritant, both of which can lead to problems sleeping.

How Smoking Can Affect Sleep

Many people may look to a cigarette to help them wind down and de-stress. Yet as a stimulant, nicotine can have the reverse affect, especially before you go to bed. 

It is widely accepted you do not drink coffee before trying to sleep as it is a stimulant and this is how you need to look at tobacco products containing nicotine, too. Nicotine reaches the blood stream quickly and regular smoking affects your body’s sleep cycle. It can mean frequent awakenings from which it can be hard to get back to sleep.

Nicotine is also an irritant which can cause inflammation in the upper airways. Swelling from the inflammation narrows the airways, making breathing more difficult. The narrower airways obstruct airflow and the vibrations to the turbulent air as it passes through increases the risk of snoring. 

According to one study of 811 adults, smokers are 2.3 times more at risk of snoring than non-smokers, which can not only affect the smoker’s sleep but adversely affect their partner’s sleep too. Research also points to a partner of a smoker also having more chance of snoring. 

Lack of sleep and loud snoring are also primary symptoms of the disorder sleep apnoea, of which obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common form.

Smoking and Sleep Apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a serious disorder which sees the airways become blocked while asleep, prompting the brain to react to the drop in blood oxygen levels due to breathing difficulties. The body is awoken for air, with sufferers sometimes gasping for breath. 

Depending on the level of severity of an individual’s sleep apnoea these interruptions to sleep can happen numerous times every night. 

Common risk factors for sleep apnoea are obesity, age, being male, a large neck size and a family history of the disorder. However, as smoking is known to affect sleep in similar ways to sleep apnoea it is reasonable to question whether smoking can worsen the symptoms of the disorder.

Snoring and Smoking

One of the main symptoms of sleep apnoea is loud snoring, a condition also associated through studies to be over twice as likely in smokers than non-smokers. Plus the more you smoke, the increased chance of snoring. 

People with obstructive sleep apnoea already experience collapsing airways as they sleep which then become blocked. According to Carl from Bed Guru, nicotine is an irritant which produces inflammation and swelling in the airways it can worsen the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea. 

The nicotine can also result in the airway muscles relaxing as you sleep, further restricting breathing and increasing the chances of interruptions to sleep.

The Health Dangers from Sleep Apnoea and a Lack of Sleep

Both smoking and obstructive sleep apnoea lead to a lack of sleep. The immediate effects can be daily fatigue, concentration problems, increased irritability and dry or sore throat in the morning. Such effects from a lack of sleep can have harmful consequences on both professional and personal lives. Productivity at work can drop, while the fatigue increases the risk of traffic accidents through falling asleep at the wheel.

In the longer term there are a number of serious health problems linked to a consistent lack of sleep through sleep apnoea. These include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Liver damage
  • Depression

If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea one of the lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend is to quit smoking, along with losing weight and a reduction in alcohol consumption. 

There is a correlation in the serious health problems which smoking is known to cause and some of those linked to sleep apnoea. As smoking may worsen the symptoms of sleep apnoea and the frequency of the interruptions to sleep sufferer’s experience this could increase the risk of developing these serious health conditions.

Quitting Smoking

By quitting smoking you can prevent adding to the conditions which can lead to obstructive sleep apnoea as well as the numerous diseases to which smoking is linked. 

Of course, quitting smoking in truth is easier said than done. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and careful planning as well as plenty of support and encouragement from family and friends will be required for any chance of success. 

Start by setting a day you will quit smoking, a day not too far in the future and let your family and friends know. As well as involving those closest to you for support, telling them of your intentions and being determined to prove to them you can do it can be a potent incentive to persist and succeed.

In preparation for the day you have set to quit smoking make sure there are no tobacco products in the house or close to hand and have some substitute items such as hard candy and sugarless gum available.

Consider joining a support group or taking advice and getting support from a friend or family member who has previously quit smoking. 

The day you quit will not be easy, but the nicotine cravings should pass. Stay busy in order to focus your thoughts elsewhere, sip water and take lots of deep breaths, feeling lovely fresh air entering your lungs.

Some people may consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help them quit smoking. Products include nicotine patches and gum which help reduce your cravings and ease any withdrawal symptoms. 

Non-nicotine medications are also available, but similar to NRT it is best to speak to your doctor about what is best for you. Alternative methods such as acupuncture, yoga and hypnosis may be recommended, although there is not any strong evidence these actually succeed. 

Vaping is an option more people are turning to, though opinion on its use is mixed. While the increase in use of e-cigarettes may see a fall in the use of traditional tobacco products, they still contain nicotine and that can still affect your sleep.

Ensuring Better Sleep

Sleep is such a vital restorative process for the body that anything which impacts on the hours of sleep you have can adversely affect your health. 

Sleep apnoea treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can be challenging to adapt to at first, but when persisted with will reduce the debilitating symptoms of the disorder. 

On its own or together with obstructive sleep apnoea, smoking can cause sleeping problems — and consistent lack of sleep can result in serious health issues. 

Quitting smoking is not easy, but it is a step to better sleep and to reducing some of the symptoms of sleep apnoea.

Are you at risk for sleep apnoea? Find out more:

To order the Intus At-Home Sleep Test: https://www.sleeptest.co.uk/product/in-home-sleep-test/

To shop for the highest-quality selection of CPAP devices: https://www.cpap.co.uk/shop.html



About author: Jenny Hall is a clinical manager at Intus Healthcare’s parent company, Baywater Healthcare. She has extensive specialist clinical experience from Regional Nurse Adviser through to Senior Nurse Adviser, Service Lead and Contract Manager. She has provided leadership for the Regional Nurse Advisers ensuring best practice, implementation of National Guidance and Clinical Governance. Ms. Hall has worked with Baywater Healthcare since 2013, with leadership responsibility in delivering Home Oxygen and Long-Term Conditions services. Her clinical team focuses on delivering services closer to home which offer the NHS value with optimum clinical outcomes. Previously, Ms. Hall provided leadership to Regional Nurse Advisors with Air Products, a company providing home oxygen services to Wales, East Midlands and North London. She has served as a Senior COPD National Trainer and Nurse Adviser COPD Response with Innovex, ensuring highest competencies were maintained and best practices delivered. Ms. Hall has a Ba Honours Degree as a Registered General Nurse from Oxford Brookes University and MSc Health Studies from Staffordshire University. She completed Respiratory Education and Training Courses and the Edinburgh Sleep Course. Jenny Hall’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenny-hall-34331b60/

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