Sleeplessness is a common problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about a third of American adults don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night. It’s so common that many people write it off as a minor inconvenience and nothing to be too concerned about.
However, sleep problems can cause some serious consequences, including weight gain, cognitive impairment, constant fatigue, and even heart problems. Insomnia can happen as a result of physical and psychological problems, but it can also be caused by cocaine. While cocaine can cause a powerful sense of euphoria, one of the most immediate drawbacks is the inability to get to sleep.
Sleep problems are a serious problem for people with cocaine use disorders, and they can also present a barrier to people who are in recovery from cocaine addiction.
Cocaine, like other psychoactive drugs, interferes with the chemical communications in your brain and nervous system. Your brain communicates with the rest of your body through nerve cells. Chemical messengers are passed between nerve cells in the form of neurotransmitters. Cocaine affects a specific neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is often called a “feel-good chemical” because it’s tied to your brain’s reward system. Your reward system is the part of your brain that encourages you to repeat tasks that are important to your survival.
That’s why you feel good when you drink a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day or when you eat your favorite meal. Eating, drinking, and other activities essential to survival trigger a rewarding response in your brain that makes you want to do those things again when you need to. Dopamine is one of the chemicals released when your reward center is activated. It can lift your mood and make you feel confident, satisfied, excited, and energized.
Cocaine works by interacting with dopamine by blocking a process called reuptake. Reuptake is when a chemical is removed from the space between nerve cells and reabsorbed by the cell that sent it. Reuptake prevents a chemical buildup that might overstimulate your nervous system, and it recycles the chemicals that are no longer needed. Cocaine is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, which means it stops dopamine from being removed from your system, causing a buildup. While a normal dopamine release can make you feel happy, content, or excited, cocaine can make you feel elated and powerful in a short-lived, intense rush.
Dopamine is also an adrenergic agonist, which means it interacts with adrenaline in the brain. Adrenaline is closely tied to your fight-or-flight response. As cocaine increases the levels of dopamine in your system, it will have an effect on dopamine and adrenaline receptors in the brain. That’s why cocaine can make you feel happy and elated, but it can also make you feel alert, highly energized, motivated, and even anxious.
It’s not hard to see how cocaine’s two major effects on your brain, increasing dopamine and adrenergic activity, can have a serious effect on your sleep. If you’ve ever received really good news and tried to go to sleep right afterward, your lifted mood may cause your mind to race so that it takes you a long time to get to sleep, like a child anticipating for Santa to deliver presents on Christmas Eve. Likewise, if something were to startle you right before bed, that can also delay sleep, like hearing a loud car alarm go off just as you are drifting off to sleep.
Cocaine can cause similar effects to both of these scenarios. Dopamine causes you to feel happy and highly alert. After taking cocaine, you may be more motivated to take on a new project at 3 a.m. than you would feel like going to sleep.
When you first take cocaine, you’ll experience the powerful, rewarding effects of the drug. But a cocaine high is fairly short-lived. When you snort it, the euphoric high can last as short as three minutes. Smoking or injecting the drug can make it even shorter, as little as 15 seconds.
Most cocaine users report that it provides an intense euphoric high for a few minutes that is followed by hours of other side effects. While the euphoria only lasts for a few minutes, it can take your body up to an hour to eliminate half of the cocaine in your blood (which is how a drug’s half-life is measured). Plus, cocaine has other metabolites, which are active chemicals that are produced as cocaine is broken down in your body. These chemicals can take many more hours to wear off. For three minutes of euphoria, you’ll experience hours of anxiety, restlessness, discomfort, and insomnia. If you take cocaine at night, you may not be able to get to sleep when you get home that night.
How Does a Cocaine Binge Affect Sleep?
Because a cocaine high is so short-lived, the drug encourages repeated use and binging. Many people feel the power of a cocaine high slipping away and start to feel the uncomfortable comedown and try to stave it off with repeated doses. This is called a binge, and it’s a common way to misuse cocaine. On top of the fact that a cocaine binge can increase your risk of a fatal overdose and is extremely expensive, a cocaine binge can severely impact sleep.
In many cases of a stimulant binge, people will stay awake for several days. Sleep deprivation and heavy cocaine use can combine to cause a disturbing consequence called stimulant psychosis. Stimulant psychosis is a temporary condition that causes symptoms similar to a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. You may experience hallucinations, delusions, and other psychotic symptoms. In most cases, stimulant psychosis goes away when the drug wears off, and you’re able to get some sleep. However, people with a predisposition to schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders may have longer-lasting problems that are triggered by stimulant psychosis.
Cocaine can also cause long-term effects that affect your sleep. After cocaine wears off, you may feel exhausted. Some people go through a period of hypersomnia, which is excessive amounts of sleep or sleeping for the majority of the day. People who are struggling with cocaine addiction and sleep problems like insomnia may assume their sleep will improve when they quit. However, sleep problems can persist after you stop taking cocaine. However, when you quit using cocaine after chronic use, you may not realize that you still have insomnia that is affecting you negatively.
This is called the occult insomnia effect, and it refers to the contradiction between the quality of sleep a person in cocaine addiction recovery feels they are getting and what they’re actually getting. Studies show that chronic cocaine users feel they get better sleep when they quit, but they actually experience more sleeplessness for a period of at least 2.5 weeks after quitting. One potential reason for this is that cocaine may interfere with your brain’s ability to gauge the amount of sleep you need. The sleeplessness caused by chronic cocaine use can also interfere with your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal clock that manages sleep and wakefulness cycles. Cocaine can have lasting consequences on your ability to sleep and rest that take a long time to recover from.
Sleep is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, and a lack of sleep can have both short-term and long-term effects. If you have a tough week in which you struggle to get enough sleep each night, you may experience irritability, depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments until you get some restful sleep. If you have long-term sleep problems, like the kind that can be caused by chronic cocaine misuse, you may experience some more severe long-term consequences of insomnia.
A lack of sleep over a long period can contribute to mental health problems like anxiety and mood disorders. It can also lead to medical problems like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. If left untreated, it can contribute to heart attacks and strokes. Sleep problems can also increase your risk of experiencing serious accidents, problems at work or school, and other problems caused by cognitive impairments.
Among people in recovery from cocaine use, insomnia can be a serious challenge in treatment and recovery. It can lead to irritability, frustration, and other negative emotions early in treatment that then lead to triggers and cravings.
While sleep problems and insomnia caused by cocaine use can be serious, these issues are often treatable. Insomnia may not go away the minute you achieve sobriety, but addressing a cocaine use disorder is the first step in dealing with your sleep problems. There are several ways to improve your sleep quality. Looking at your own sleep hygiene can help improve your sleep quality over time. If you have sleep problems that p