Stimulants are drugs that produce a temporary increase in energy, alertness, heart rate, and respiration. Some examples of legal, prescription stimulant medications include Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Concerta. Other types of stimulants, such as crack cocaine, cocaine, and methamphetamine, are illicit substances that are bought and sold on the streets. Virtually all stimulants are addictive because they produce a feeling of euphoria that drug users seek. However, stimulant abuse can have a variety of negative effects on your mental and physical health. In fact, stimulants affect sleep in several significant ways.

Prescription stimulants are typically used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is usually prescribed to teens, children, and adolescents who experience ADHD symptoms. People who take stimulants for their mental health may so little to no effects on sleep, while people who abuse stimulants may find it hard to fall asleep. Whatever the case may be, stimulant abuse rarely improves sleep.

How Stimulants Affect the Body

Put simply, stimulants provide people’s minds and bodies with a jump-start or energy, focus, and attention. They work by stimulating the entire central nervous system. Whether a stimulant is smoked, snorted, or injected, as soon as it enters the bloodstream it is transported throughout the body, affecting each and every bodily system. When stimulants reach the brain, they produce excess levels of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that is responsible for pleasure and reward systems.[1]

Areas in the brain become accustomed to having stimulants in the body, so when a person doesn’t take a stimulant, the brain experiences a shortage of dopamine. This is what causes users to go into withdrawal if they stop using a substance. Withdrawals and drug cravings then push users back to their drug of choice, further perpetuating the cycle of stimulant addiction. Throughout this process, stimulants affect the body and the sleep cycle in various ways.

Short Term Effects of Stimulant Use

When someone takes a stimulant, they will notice many short-term effects that wear off as the drug is processed in the body. While some side effects are highly sought out by drug users, other adverse effects are less enjoyable. These include:

  • Increased wakefulness, physical activity, and inability to sleep
  • Increased levels of energy and happiness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Increased body temperature
  • High blood pressure

Long Term Effects of Stimulant Abuse

In the long term, stimulants can have devastating effects on the mind and body. Stimulant abuse can also affect your quality of sleep. Some common long-term effects of stimulant abuse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Malnourishment
  • Impaired brain functioning
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Psychosis

The Ways in Which Stimulants Affect Sleep

Since stimulants are substances that help boost energy and keep people awake, they affect sleep in many ways. For example, when people use stimulants they get “high” and energized, however, when the drugs wear off, they will have a “come down” or a “crash” where users may sleep for days on end. This is also known as a “binge” and “crash.”

During a binge, a user may be awake for extended periods of time, ranging from several hours to days depending on what drug they took and how much of it they took. Once the binge is over and the crash kicks in, users may sleep for longer periods of time than usual. However, this sleep isn’t necessarily quality sleep. For example, users may never enter REM sleep – a stage of restorative sleep that is responsible for repairing pathways in the brain. Sometimes, people wake up before entering REM because it takes longer for them to enter that stage (a period of time known as REM sleep latency). Other times, users spend a shorter amount of time in REM sleep.

Other ways that stimulants affect sleep and sleep cycles are:

  • Reduced overall time asleep
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Lack of restorative (REM) sleep
  • Poor nutrition leading to poor sleep
  • Restlessness or restless leg syndrome
  • Insomnia due to long-lasting drug-induced highs
  • Disruptive sleep caused by paranoia, anxiety, or stress
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep

Sleep disturbances caused by stimulants can be so severe that some people will continue using simply to stick to their regular sleep schedule. In fact, studies show that sleep problems are sometimes severe enough to disrupt treatment success and cause relapse or the development of anxiety, depression, or chronic stress.

A study looked at sleep disturbances in people with substance use disorders and found that almost all of the participants reported impaired sleep quality, ranging from severe insomnia to restless leg syndrome.[2] Fortunately, most of these sleep problems subside after people stay sober for a couple of months.

A Look at Stimulant-Dependent Sleep Disorder

Stimulant-dependent sleep disorder was originally characterized by the reduction of sleepiness by stimulants and states of wakefulness even after periods of abstinence. However, the term now encompasses any sleep disorder that is caused by a substance or drug, including central sleep apnea, insomnia, parasomnia, sleep-related movement disorders, and sleep-related hypoventilation.[3]

While sleep disturbances associated with stimulants are often thought to be caused by having too much energy and the inability to sleep, abstinence from stimulants can lead to sleep disorders and insomnia as the body tries to adjust to being sober. Although there is no standard treatment approach for treating stimulant-induced sleep disturbances, sleep medications, relaxation techniques, and behavioral therapy can help individuals manage their symptoms and get better sleep.

Find Help for Stimulant Addiction Today

The safest and most effective way to sober up off of stimulants like cocaine, meth, crack, or Adderall is to find an addiction treatment program near you. At Comprehensive Wellness Centers, we offer a full continuum of care including detox, inpatient, and outpatient programs. Our staff consists of both expert doctors and substance abuse counselors who can provide medications and therapy to help you reset your sleep cycle, get better sleep, and feel more rested throughout the day. Most importantly, we’ll teach you how to get sober, stay sober, and cope with whatever life throws your way – without the use of drugs or alcohol.

Addiction isn’t easy to overcome, but you don’t have to do it alone. Pick up the phone and reach out to one of our addiction specialists today to start your journey to recovery.