Opiate Sleep Effects
The term “opiates” refers to naturally-occurring opioids, such as heroin, codeine, and morphine. The effects of opioids on the body are widely studied, and some of the most widespread side effects include poor sleep, sleep disorders, and changes in sleep architecture.
Find out more about addiction to opiates and how these drugs can affect your sleep.
What Sleep Problems Can Opiates Cause?
Opiates affect sleep in a number of ways. Taking opioid medications in combination with other drugs can amplify the negative side effects and be fatal.
Additionally, long-term use is associated with a condition known as opioid-induced insomnia, which is a serious condition that can impact a person’s quality of life.
If you’re taking opiates often, especially in high doses, you may experience:
- Disrupted circadian rhythms (also known as the sleep/wake cycle), which will make it harder to fall asleep.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness as a result of sleep deprivation, which can reduce cognitive function and alertness.
- The development of new conditions, such as sleep-disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnea.
- Spending more time in non-REM sleep (NREM) and less time in deep REM sleep, which can contribute to sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality.
These side effects mean that even if someone taking opiates is able to log the same number of hours asleep each day, it may no longer be enough to leave them feeling well-rested.
This is because opioids can inhibit your ability to enter the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) and slow-wave sleep, which is when the body’s restorative processes work their best.
Why Do Opiates Affect Your Sleep?
Opioid and opiate use correlates with several sleep-related side effects as a result of how they interact with opioid receptors in the brain, leading to the release of chemicals that act as neurotransmitters.
There are three types of opioid receptors in your brain, including Mu, Delta, and Kappa. Mu opioid receptors are associated with the body’s reward, pain, and mood regulation. Most opiates interact with mu opioid receptors, leading to dopamine release.
In the body, dopamine helps suppress pain and elevate mood, which leads to a sense of euphoria that can be addicting.
Dopamine also plays an important role in sleep regulation.
When dopamine is present, the brain is alert and excited, which inhibits the production of another chemical known as melatonin.
Due to the complicated chemical interplay in the brain, the use of opioids can throw things off balance very quickly. Chronic opioid use can actually completely change a person’s sleep architecture, resulting in significant sleeping problems.
Are Sleep Problems Caused by Opiates Dangerous?
A major sleep-related risk associated with opioid use is sleep deprivation. The reduced sleep efficiency people experience when taking opiates can be quite unpleasant, as it means you’ll have to spend more time sleeping in order to feel rested each day.
However, not being able to get enough quality sleep can be dangerous, as it reduces alertness and cognitive function. Over time, sleep deprivation can also have a long-term impact on your health.
Sleep deprivation has a domino effect on the body that can compound other problems, like mood and appetite changes. When not treated, sleep deprivation can increase your risk of:
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Type 2 diabetes
Other sleep problems caused by opiates can also be dangerous. For instance, if you have a history of sleep apnea, you should let your doctor know as soon as possible.
Opioids can also increase your risk factors for developing sleep apnea, which is a condition characterized by interrupted breathing while you sleep.
When not treated, sleep apnea can be fatal. Because it leads to oxygen deprivation, which is compounded by the respiratory depression caused by opioids, it can damage your organs or even lead to organ failure.
Sleep apnea can be difficult to detect, especially if you sleep alone. If you wake up short of breath or you experience other symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Managing Sleep Issues Caused by Opiates
People taking prescription opioids for chronic pain may feel like they have to simply deal with the sleep disturbance associated with their medications, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Consulting with your healthcare provider is important, as they may be able to help you with the use of sleep-promoting therapies and supplements.
Taking a sleep medication may not be an option, but they may suggest changing medications or changing your dose.
Meanwhile, sleeping problems related to opioid use disorder can go away completely so long as the opioid addiction is addressed properly.
Gradual transitions away from opioids and other substances are key to safely managing co-occurring conditions (i.e., central sleep apnea and mental health concerns) while restoring quality sleep.
If you’re looking to minimize the sleep disruption caused by opioid use, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers the following advice:
- Napping throughout the day can help you catch up on sleep, just make sure you avoid naps in the latter half of the day.
- Getting lots of physical activity, especially in the morning, can help you wear out your body.
- Creating a calming nighttime routine can help your mind and body prepare for sleep, which can prompt the release of melatonin and serotonin.
- Going to bed at about the same time each night and trying to wake up at a consistent time each morning can help your body anticipate sleep.
If you’re a victim of drug abuse, stopping opiates is the only way to completely treat your sleeping problems. Fortunately, you don’t have to face it alone.
Are Opiates Affecting Your Sleep? Zinnia Health Can Help
The topic of opiates and sleeping problems is well-studied, especially in the case of substance use disorders where excessive opioid consumption can induce insomnia and other sleeping disorders.
Coping with opioid-induced sleeping problems is a whole other topic that requires help from a caring professional.