I’ve quit – why can’t I sleep?

by Deanna Sykes on January 24, 2012

Dear Advisor,

Three weeks ago I quit smoking cold turkey after smoking for 25 years. It was very hard, but hardest of all has been the insomnia I have been experiencing since then. Any advice?

Sleepless & Exhausted

Dear Sleepless,

Congratulations on quitting – that’s a HUGE accomplishment! The next step, of course, is to get through the aftermath of quitting without going back to smoking, right?

Insomnia is a common problem after quitting, but rest assured it’s temporary – once your body adjusts to not smoking, you will sleep better than before, and wake up much more rested than you did when you were smoking.

tired woman

What’s happening is this: Nicotine affects your sleep patterns, and after you quit, it takes your body a few weeks to readjust to the new patterns. Research shows that smokers spend more time in alpha (light) sleep, and less time in delta (deep) sleep. When you quit, some of the time you were spending in light sleep ends up breaking the surface into wakefulness, meaning that you wake up multiple times during the night.

The good news is, as long as you stay off of nicotine, within a few weeks your body will gradually adjust on its own so that you revert to the sleep of a non-smoker: more time in deep, restorative sleep, less time in light sleep, and no waking up multiple times in the middle of the night.

In the meantime, you need to get some sleep, right?

The normal techniques for dealing with insomnia should help you get some sleep during this adjustment period, as well as help to get your body on track for normal restorative sleep patterns:

  • Don’t get reliant on sleeping medication.
  • Keep regular sleep hours.
  • Don’t spend hours laying in bed awake – if you can’t get back to sleep get up and do something for a little bit until you feel sleepy again.
  • Avoid nicotine, excess caffeine, and napping.
  • Develop a relaxing nighttime routine to prepare your brain for sleep.

If you need more help, take a look at this article about insomnia and what to do about it.


Share your experience with others: Have you had trouble sleeping after quitting smoking? What did you do to deal with the problem? How long did it take for you to get back to normal sleep patterns?

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If you haven’t managed to quit yet, but still want to, read more about the Complete Quit System and how it deals with the psychological aspects of quitting.

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