The Relationship Between Smoking and Sleep Apnea
by Dr. Scott Bolding
It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for your health. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, approximately, 37 million Americans still smoke tobacco despite the fact that smoking can lead to a number of health issues including:
- Lung cancer
Along with these more well-known problems, smoking is also a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking can have an impact on your airway which can cause sleep apnea or make it worse. It’s important to understand the relationship between smoking and sleep apnea if you want any sleep apnea treatment to be successful. If you don’t stop smoking there will be a limit on how much we can do to help you sleep better.
Let’s take a minute to learn more about the relationship between smoking and sleep apnea. Knowing the relationship between smoking and obstructive sleep apnea will help you understand why quitting is so important to successful treatment.
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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Before we begin discussing the relationship between smoking and sleep apnea, we need to understand how sleep apnea happens in the first place. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where you stop breathing while you sleep. Your body recognizes that you’re not breathing, so it wakes up momentarily to open your airway back up.
These episodes are often brief and you usually don’t know when they happen. However, you will notice the way sleep apnea affects your life. Most people suspect sleep apnea when they notice how tired they are throughout the day. Even if you get 8-9 hours of sleep every night you’re still sleepy all day long. You experience frequent mood swings and often wake with a headache. These are all signs that you’re sleep is being interrupted by obstructive sleep apnea.
The Relationship Between Smoking and Sleep Apnea
There are many causes and risk factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Sometimes it’s due to your physical features, like an underdeveloped jaw. Sometimes excess weight can lead to OSA.
Studies have also shown that there is a relationship between smoking and obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is often caused by or made more severe in patients who smoke. In fact, there are many ways that smoking and sleep apnea are related.
Smoking Causes Problems with Your Airway
The main way smoking causes sleep apnea is due to the problems it can cause in your airway.
Smoking often irritates your mouth, throat, and lungs. This in turn leads to inflammation of these areas. As your airway becomes inflamed it also begins to swell, which impacts the size of your airway. Then, when you lay down to sleep, and the muscles in your airway naturally relax, this swelling makes it harder for you to breathe.
Nicotine also stimulates the muscles in your upper airway, which makes it harder for air to get through. Increased mucus production is also linked to nicotine. Too much mucus in the throat can block air from getting in and out.
Smoking Affects Your Sleep Quality
Smoking can also make sleep apnea worse because of how it impacts the quality of your sleep. In fact, smoking adds to the “sleep fragmentation” already caused by OSA. Research by Johns Hopkins discovered that 22.5% of smokers said they experience restless sleep.
Some people believe that smoking a cigarette before they go to bed will help them relax and fall asleep easier. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Nicotine is a stimulant. So, when you smoke too close to bedtime, it will affect how well you sleep. Studies have shown that nicotine taken within 2 hours of sleeping will disrupt your sleep cycle. As the nicotine begins to fade, your body goes through withdrawal. This can make you restless during the night. People who smoke before bed rarely go into a deep sleep, which is necessary for brain health.
Basically, smoking a cigarette before bed is similar to drinking a cup of coffee and expecting to sleep well.
For people who also have obstructive sleep apnea, this disrupted sleep gets even worse. Apnea episodes will often happen in the moments when the nicotine starts to fade. This means the chances of you going into deep sleep decrease significantly when you smoke and have sleep apnea at the same time. You can even lose up to several hours of sleep simply by smoking one cigarette.
Smoking and Sleep Apnea Treatment
Sleep is so important to both your physical and mental health. If you don’t treat sleep apnea you are putting yourself at risk of many other issues, such as heart attack, stroke, and memory problems. Due to the daytime sleepiness caused by OSA, not getting the right treatment can also increase your risk of getting into work-related accidents or car wrecks.
Our goal in treating sleep apnea is to help you get the best sleep possible, so you can live the best life possible. And we will do everything we can to get you there. However, even our best treatment plans can be hindered if you continue to smoke.
Because of the effects, smoking has on your airway, no treatment will be effective unless you quit. We understand that nicotine is addictive and quitting can be extremely difficult.
But if you want to breathe easier, sleep better, and be more engaged in your life smoking is one of many steps you need to take. Quitting won’t completely fix your sleep apnea, but it will make any treatment we provide more effective.
Quitting Can Be Hard
But It May be the Key to Better Sleep
The connection between smoking and sleep apnea makes quitting a crucial part of curing your OSA. We understand that quitting can be difficult. You will need a lot of support and help from your family, friends, and your sleep apnea team. But if you can stop smoking it will be that much easier to treat your obstructive sleep apnea. You can finally get the sleep you need.
If you are ready to move forward and start sleeping better we are here to help.