While psychedelic drugs can produce a dream-like state, they have an overall negative effect on sleep. People who use them regularly may experience poor sleep quality, insomnia, and lack of REM sleep.
What are Psychedelic Drugs?
Psychedelic drugs can cause changes in perception of time, visual images, sounds, touch, and awareness, among other changes. This can lead to feelings of greater connection to the universe and broader thoughts. Conversely, it can lead to feelings of less connection to the body or mind.
These drugs may also be called hallucinogens or psychomimetic drugs.
Drugs in the psychedelic category occur naturally, or they are created in a lab. They reached their height of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. Though they are abused less frequently today, many milder psychedelic drugs are abused socially, in nightclub or rave settings or more relaxed social gatherings.
Types of Psychedelics
The Most Commonly Used Hallucinogens Include:
- Ayahuasca This is a natural psychedelic that is typically brewed into a tea. The plant is native to South America, and the chemical found in the plant was the model for the artificial hallucinogen, DMT.
- Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) When made in a lab, this chemical is a white, crystalline powder. The artificial version causes uniquely similar, short hallucinations.
- D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) The most famous hallucinogen, this clear or white, odorless liquid was typically soaked into blotter paper to dose the chemical; however, modern use of LSD is not as likely to involve blotter paper as it was in the 1960s.
- Mescaline (peyote) A natural hallucinogen, this is a small, spineless cactus that is dried to create buttons of peyote. Increasingly, there are synthetic versions of peyote sold in the United States.
- Psilocybin/psilocin (mushrooms or shrooms) Often found in the subtropical and tropical regions of the U.S., Central, and South America, shrooms or magic mushrooms can be brewed into a tea, eaten whole, or crushed and consumed.
- Phencyclidine (PCP) This is a synthetic hallucinogen developed for anesthesia in surgery, but it is more often abused due to physical disconnection and hallucinations.
- Ketamine Also a surgical anesthetic, this drug creates dissociation from reality along with hallucinations.
- Salvia This is another plant common to Central and South America that causes hallucinations.
While not all of the psychedelic drugs listed above affect serotonin levels, those that do can have a significant impact on sleep quality. This is because serotonin doesn’t just regulate mood; it is deeply involved in managing sleep cycles.
The Expected Effects of Psychedelic Drugs
Depending on how the drug is consumed, a psychedelic substance will take effect between 20 and 90 minutes.
Most hallucinogenic substances are consumed orally, so they have to move through the digestive system. This slows down how fast they hit the brain, but it also means that the effects will last longer. A “trip” can last for three to 12 hours, depending on how it was consumed and the size of the dose.
With good trips, effects from the drug may include hallucinations, having a greater understanding of the universe, feeling more connected to others, and feeling happy or at peace. Bad trips may lead to anxiety, physical shaking, nausea or vomiting, despair, feeling as though one is losing control or dissolving into nothing, or hallucinating frightening images.
Whether pleasant or unpleasant, the effects from many psychedelic drugs rely on a rush of serotonin and dopamine to the brain, which elevates mood, physical energy, heart rate, body heat, and blood flow. When neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, are changed, this can lead to sleep difficulties. People who have a bad trip, for example, may be too anxious to sleep. However, new research shows that, even if you have a good experience on a psychedelic drug, your sleep could be impacted, and you may struggle with a period of insomnia.
Stages of Sleep
Serotonin is one of the most used neurotransmitters in your brain. People who struggle with depression usually have an imbalance of serotonin that antidepressants in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) family can help to manage. This neurotransmitter impacts mood, and it tells the brain when to move from one stage of sleep to the next.
There are Four Fundamental Stages to Sleep.
- Stage 1: Non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is when the brain transitions from consciousness to unconsciousness. This is a relatively short period lasting several minutes, during which your heart rate, eye movements, and breathing all slow down. Your muscles relax except for occasional twitches, and your brain waves slow down from daytime patterns.
- Stage 2: This is light sleep moving into a deeper sleep, but still without dreams. Body temperature drops and brain waves change.
- Stage 3: This third non-REM period of sleep is the most important for feeling refreshed in the morning. It lasts most of the night or during the first half of sleep. Your muscles are relaxed, and brain waves become even slower.
- Rapid eye movement (REM): This is the dream stage of sleep, which typically occurs toward the end of the sleep cycle. The first REM stage begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Your brain will usually paralyze your body, so you do not act out your dreams, but during this stage, your brainwaves will look like you are conscious or awake.
Psychedelics and Sleep
Substance abuse of all kinds can cause changes in sleep patterns, usually preventing your brain from going deeper into REM stages. You may wake up more often or become physically uncomfortable during sleep. You may find that you sleep longer after abusing certain drugs because your brain does not move through sleep cycles effectively.
Psychedelic drugs change serotonin activity, which prevents you from making it into REM sleep, which can hurt your memory, learning, and thinking processes. People who take antidepressants like SSRIs report less intense, but similar, experiences of being tired or not sleeping well, as their serotonin is managed differently on these drugs too.
Many people who take psychedelic drugs report feeling as though they did not sleep the next morning. This is because sleep architecture is disrupted, which leads to feeling like you did not get enough rest. Your brain has not performed all necessary activities despite sleeping for a sufficient length of time.
At the same time, research also found that psychedelic drugs’ hallucinations are like the experiences produced by the brain during REM sleep. LSD and psilocybin, according to medical studies, appear to produce the most dream-like states in the brain, especially if the person can dream lucidly. While someone who abuses a psychedelic drug may report a good experience during the trip, the brain chemistry change will last much longer than intoxication and can still disrupt sleep.
Avoid Psychedelics to Improve Sleep
Ultimately, psychedelics damage your sleep quality.
If you struggle with insomnia or sleep problems, the best approach is to quit abusing substances so your brain chemistry can normalize. For those struggling with addiction, this process will require medically supervised detox and behavioral therapy in an evidence-based treatment program.