How Opioids Can Affect Sleep Patterns Negatively

Most people are aware that opioids can negatively affect many aspects of life. One problem opioids can cause is problems with sleep. They can create issues with sleep quality, falling asleep or conditions like sleep apnea. This guide will provide an overview of the effects of opioids on sleep.

How Opioids Can Negatively Affect Sleep

The overall quality of sleep can be adversely affected by the use of opioids. A study conducted by Penn State University stated that patients reporting lower quality of sleep were associated with intense drug cravings.

Sleep issues could include restless sleep or waking frequently throughout the night. There are different levels of sleep, some mentioned below, that should be experienced each time a person goes through a sleep cycle. Drug use can interrupt or diminish these cycles. The amount of overall hours a person sleeps can be affected as well.

Types of Sleep Disorders Caused by Opioids

When opioids interfere with sleep, they can cause four different types of sleep problems. They affect patients’ sleep patterns in a variety of ways. Some people have one type of sleep issue, while others have more than one. You may have an opioid-induced sleep disorder such as:

  • Insomnia: Many patients have sleep deprivation from opioids related to trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep or not getting restful sleep. They may also not feel rested from normal sleep.
  • Parasomnia: Since opioids interfere with your sleep patterns and cycle, they can also cause you to have abnormal behaviors during sleep. These behaviors make your sleep less restful.
  • Daytime sleepiness: Opioids can cause someone to have excess sleepiness during the day. Sometimes this tiredness comes from sleep issues, while in other cases, it has no clear explanation.
  • Mixed: A person who uses opioids could also have a combination of the above symptoms with no predominant type. For example, they might have daytime sleepiness along with behaviors during sleep.

If you use opioids and experience any of these symptoms, you could have an opioid-induced sleep disorder. They can cause these issues if you have opioid use disorder or take them on a regular basis for pain.

How Opioids Impact Sleep

Using opioids can create the above symptoms because of their biological and chemical reactions with the body. The following sleep problems can happen if you misuse opioids.

Disturbed REM Patterns

Opioid use is known to disrupt and even block access to REM sleep. REM sleep, which stands for rapid eye movement, is one of the most important stages of sleep. According to Medical News Today, REM sleep accounts for between 20 percent and 25 percent of sleep each night for an adult.

Adequate REM sleep is related to the ability to learn and retain memory. Disrupted REM sleep in those using opioids may produce negative consequences in these areas. Ironically, poor sleep patterns can ultimately increase the amount of pain an individual experiences. Thus, the cycle of increased pain and opioid use is perpetuated.

Disrupted Non-REM Patterns

Non-REM sleep is also called non-rapid eye movement or NREM. NREM sleep occurs in three stages that lead up to REM sleep.

  • Stage One – This is the lightest stage and sometimes is called “drowsy” sleep.
  • Stage Two – This is considered the first official stage of sleep. This is considered light sleep.
  • Stage Three – This stage is considered deep sleep. Many important restorative processes occur during this stage.

Modern Medicine Network has reported that opioid use can particularly disrupt the third and fourth stages of sleep. The deeper stage of NREM is critical in the repair of muscle and bone tissue and the strengthening of the immune system. Those who have struggled with extensive opioid use may experience vivid dreams and nightmares during the REM stage.

Increase in Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which someone’s breathing will stop and start again while the person is sleeping. The use of opiates can contribute to this condition as noted by the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. There are generally three types of sleep apnea:

Central Sleep Apnea: This is when the muscles controlling breathing don’t get the correct signals from the brain.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is caused when a person’s throat muscles become extremely relaxed.
Complex Sleep Apnea: This is a combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.

Disruption of General Breathing Patterns

According to the Chest Journal, there is a clear connection between sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and the use of opioids. Even if an individual doesn’t specifically experience sleep apnea, opioids can still alter and cause dysfunction in breathing patterns. Some neural sites that are particularly sensitive to opioids control breathing rhythms. Respiratory depression, in some cases, can be fatal.

Opioids can negatively affect sleep and affect your overall good health. When seeking treatment for opioid addiction, it’s important to find a facility that provides effective programs while focusing on each individual’s specific needs. It’s necessary to choose a facility that provides a comprehensive program that focuses on physical and mental health.

Cycles of Opioid Use and Sleep Issues

Drugs such as opioids that have a sedative effect can cause a cycle of use and sleep problems. In some cases of opioid-induced sleep disorders, the person who uses opioids takes them in an attempt to relax. The opioids instead interfere with sleep, causing the person to think they need to take more of them. These behaviors result in a cycle that can make an addiction more severe. Learning the right coping skills and getting help from addiction professionals can help.

How to Manage Opioid-Induced Sleep Disorders

If you have sleeping issues as a result of taking opioids for pain or an addiction, you can take steps to improve your sleep. After you talk with a doctor about reducing or discontinuing your opioid use, you can try these sleep-promoting habits:

  • Exercising regularly: Exercise helps you maintain your energy by giving you an outlet to expend it.
  • Waking up and getting to bed at regular times: When you maintain a sleep schedule, your circadian rhythm encourages regulated sleep.
  • Avoiding stress: Learning how to manage stress will allow you to better relax in bed.
  • Eating a nutritious diet: A good diet will improve your overall health, helping you sleep.

An opioid use disorder treatment center can help you develop more coping skills for your sleep.

Get Help From a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic Near You

To learn more about opioids and sleep or get help with opioid use disorder, we welcome you to contact a BAART Programs location near you. You can message our team online or call us at 844-341-4040.

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