The effects of cocaine on sleep

Exploring the impact of cocaine on sleep: from coping with the cocaine comedown to managing insomnia.

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Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug that can have a negative impact on lots of different areas of your life, including sleep.

Here, we’ll explore how cocaine affects our sleep patterns and how it’s linked to insomnia. We’ll also outline some strategies you can use to try and improve your sleep, as well how to get the help you need for cocaine addiction.

How does cocaine affect sleep?

The impact that cocaine can have on sleep is a complex issue that often leaves people struggling with disrupted sleep patterns.

When you take cocaine, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which can create feelings of euphoria, alertness and high energy. This increased brain activity can make it very difficult for you to fall asleep when you’re under the influence of cocaine. In fact, one of the symptoms of cocaine addiction is a reduced need for sleep.

Cocaine can also lead to unhealthy behaviours such as staying awake for long periods of time, neglecting your need for sleep, and developing unpredictable sleep habits.

As the effects of the drug wear off, you might experience a ‘crash’ or a ‘comedown’ phase. This can cause you to feel restless, irritable and anxious, all of which can also make it hard to achieve restful sleep, even if you feel tired.

If you’re worried about your sleeping habits, then understanding the connection between cocaine use and disturbed sleep is really important.

Cocaine and insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes people to find it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is a common issue for people who use cocaine.

Because cocaine is a stimulant, it can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. You might find it hard to drift off to sleep when you’re still feeling the effects of cocaine. And even after the stimulant effects have worn off, insomnia can still persist because of the comedown effects that you might experience, such as anxiety and an overactive mind. Therefore, both the stimulant and comedown effects of cocaine can make it hard for you to sleep.

Using cocaine regularly can make these sleep disturbances even worse over time, leading to chronic insomnia. This is because cocaine:

  • Can have a detrimental impact on the production and release of our body’s sleep hormone, melatonin
  • Can impair our natural ability to regulate our internal body clock (known as the circadian rhythm)

Ultimately, this can have a long-term impact on your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and achieve restful sleep, which can affect your physical and mental health. These effects can persist for weeks, months or even longer, even when the cocaine has left your system.

Other side effects of a cocaine comedown

As well as sleep disturbances, the comedown you experience after taking cocaine can cause a whole range of additional side effects. These include:

  • Extreme fatigue – you might experience extreme tiredness during the cocaine comedown, making it difficult to function or complete your daily activities
  • Irritability – the comedown phase can also make you irritable and prone to mood swings, which can cause interpersonal problems
  • Depression and anxiety – feeling low, anxious or ‘on edge’ are also common during the cocaine comedown
  • Physical symptoms – you might experience headaches, muscle aches and general discomfort during the comedown
  • Increased cravings – the comedown can also trigger strong cravings for more cocaine, which can lead to addiction and dependency, or make an existing addiction even worse

Find out how to manage a comedown.

As well as insomnia, cocaine can also result in a number of other sleep problems, including:

  • Sleep apnoea, a potentially dangerous condition that causes you to stop breathing while you’re sleeping
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Restlessness when you're asleep
  • Narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that makes you very sleepy during the day

How to sleep after taking cocaine

Getting a good night’s sleep after taking cocaine can be challenging, but there are some steps you can take to improve your sleep more broadly.

  • Create a healthy bedtime routine – trying to create a consistent bedtime routine can help you regulate your internal clock and improve your chances of falling asleep. This might include winding down with calming exercises and going to bed at the same time each night
  • Relaxation techniques – you could practise relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation or gentle stretching before bedtime. These can help to calm your mind and body, making it a bit easier to fall asleep
  • Create a relaxing sleep environment – try to make your sleep space as conducive to rest as possible. Make sure it’s quiet, dark and comfortable. Limit screen time before bed and consider using blackout curtains or a white noise machine to make a more restful environment. All of these can help to limit any additional stimulation that could keep you awake
  • Stay hydrated and eat nutritious foods – proper hydration and a balanced diet can contribute to better sleep quality. Try to drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods and avoid caffeine right before bedtime
  • Exercise – regular exercise can help your mental health in many ways, including regulating your sleep patterns. However, avoid intense exercise close to bedtime as this can be overly stimulating

While the above tips can help, it’s likely that your sleep will always be disrupted if you take cocaine. Cocaine is a harmful drug and its stimulating effects can linger, making it difficult to fall asleep, even hours after you took it. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial to understand that the most effective way to improve your sleep is to avoid taking cocaine in the first place.

Support for cocaine addiction

If you’re finding it difficult to abstain from cocaine, getting professional help is really important. You could start by reaching out to your GP, who will be able to provide guidance and a referral to an appropriate addiction treatment programme, if needed. Or you could consider going directly to a private addiction treatment provider, such as Priory. We can offer tailored treatment plans, a medical detox and comprehensive support to help you overcome your addiction to cocaine. We’ll also help you to address your sleep problems alongside your substance abuse.

Remember, getting help is a brave and essential decision, and there are lots of resources and professionals ready to support you on the path to recovery.

Page clinically reviewed by Beth Tudgay, Psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham.

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