The effects of chronic sleeplessness and substance abuse - Sovereign Health Group
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chronic sleeplessness and substance abuse
03-09-16 Category: Stress, Substance Abuse

chronic sleeplessness and substance abuse

It’s a clawing desperation, lying sleepless in one’s bed. Punching pillows, crying dry tears, tossing and turning, knowing that with morning comes work meetings and school exams; being alert is as much of a necessity as putting pants on before leaving the house. More than 6 million Americans are affected by insomnia caused by drugs, medical conditions or mental disorders.

For those to whom sleep deprivation is a light switch, seemingly out of arm’s reach, that flips on and off under the thumb of alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal substances, harmful effects are the shadows cast by its glare.

Drugs and insomnia

Many prescription drugs, even taken in their legitimate dosages, can have insomnia as a side effect. This will be delineated in the pharmacy literature given to each patient. That’s not fluff or blanket disclosures in the bag; there’s needed information that can help a patient prepare for adverse effects.

According to WebMD, the following nonprescription drugs can spur acute and chronic sleep disturbances:

  • Pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in cold medications like Sudafed
  • Medications with caffeine like Excedrin and many daytime cough and cold medicines
  • Cocaine, amphetamines and illicit meth
  • Nicotine can disrupt sleep and reduce total sleep time

For stimulant drug users, a 2013 study proved that the cycle between illicit drug use and insomnia effects creates a reaction similar to Pavlov’s dog experiment. Simply, cocaine use caused sleep deprivation in the study, and sleep deprivation aroused the addicts to resume consumption.

Alcohol and chronic sleeplessness

It might sound counterintuitive, but that last nightcap many people take to help fall asleep also makes them more tired in the morning. In her review, Lisa B. Bernstein, M.D., confirms that the quality of sleep is often disjointed during the second half of the sleep cycle after bedtime alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases the number of times one awakens when the alcohol’s relaxing effect wears off, thus barring entry into deep sleep and vital rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Sleep disruption due to alcohol often leads to daytime fatigue. Working while fatigued or hungover is dangerous for many employees in industries that require operation of machinery or supervision of dependents.

The effects of sleep and sleeplessness

A 2013 study reveals that the dangers of sleep deprivation lie primarily in chronic sleeplessness. Deep sleep, and lack thereof, manifests in many ways:

  • Major depression is associated with abnormal REM sleep even after the depression is treated.
  • Lack of REM sleep may interfere with long-term memory.
  • Weight problems are associated with shorter REM periods.
  • Coping skills, defensive responses and reflexes diminish with reduced REM sleep.
  • Mice in some studies demonstrate longer REM sleep after finishing a new maze path – signifying REM sleep helps absorb new lessons learned.
  • Sleeplessness is linked to a proclivity toward mood disorders.
  • Sleep affects procedural memory retention of sequential steps.

Teens, sleep deprivation and substance use

For the developing mind of a teen, the effects are more acute. Reports show the often impatient and invincible mindset of the average teen does not suffer sleeplessness for long.

In one study it was discovered for every 10 minutes delayed bedtime of a teenager, there was an increased likelihood of alcohol or marijuana use by 6 percent. Elsewhere, sleep difficulties predicted dangers like:

  • Drinking and driving
  • Binge drinking
  • Risky sexual behavior

If you’re dependent on a nightcap, pill, or smoke to get you to bed and it’s causing harm in your life that you can’t control, we can help. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn The Sovereign Way.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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