Sleep disturbances are a common side effect of cocaine abuse. Unfortunately, poor sleep may continue for months after a person discontinues cocaine use.

Cocaine is known to have an impact on sleeping habits. Specifically, cocaine use is linked to insomnia and a reduced need for sleep.

Article at a Glance:

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that can increase wakefulness.

Cocaine use can increase the risk of sleep disturbances.

Sleep disturbances can continue for weeks or months after ending cocaine use.

How Does Cocaine Affect Your Sleep?

As a stimulant, cocaine can cause wakefulness. In fact, one of the signs of cocaine abuse is a reduced need for sleep. Sleep deprivation may be severe, especially when someone struggles with a cocaine addiction. Cocaine can impair many aspects of a person’s sleeping habits, including:

  • Time to fall asleep
  • Total sleep time
  • Deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep
  • REM sleep

Cocaine and Circadian Rhythms

Humans have an internal clock that helps them cope with changes in periods of light and darkness. This internal clock is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain’s hypothalamus. The SCN maintains the daily rhythm of body temperature, feeding, hormone secretion and immune function.

The SCN uses signals from the environment, such as day length, food availability and temperature, and adapts the circadian rhythm to these changes. Problems in these rhythms can disturb sleep patterns, causing circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

Cocaine abuse can negatively affect brain pathways involved in maintaining circadian rhythms, which disrupts sleep and wake patterns. Additionally, some experts think that sleep disruptions may influence drug use by triggering potential relapses.

How Cocaine Affects Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder

Although studies have looked at how substance abuse affects sleep patterns, few have directly addressed how drugs like cocaine impact the circadian clock. Like many other substances of abuse, cocaine disrupts sleep patterns. This shows that it may have an impact on circadian rhythms. Further, disturbances in sleep patterns often continue even after cocaine withdrawal.

Cocaine may impact circadian rhythms, driving someone to use the drug at certain times. Additionally, cocaine impacts the activity of the SCN by influencing its responses to various cues, such as light, physiological cues and food. This explains the ability of cocaine to disrupt sleep/wake cycles.

Can Cocaine Abuse Cause Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder?

It is difficult to determine whether cocaine abuse leads to circadian rhythm sleep disorders or vice versa. However, it is known that chronic cocaine users show higher rates of sleep problems like insomnia and hypersomnia.

Cocaine and Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes people very sleepy during the day. People who suffer from narcolepsy may take stimulants, including drugs like cocaine, to stay awake. Provigil (modafinil) is sometimes used to treat cocaine use along with narcolepsy. Because of this, some people may wonder if there is a link between cocaine and narcolepsy. While the same drug can be used to treat both cocaine use and narcolepsy, there is no clear link between cocaine and narcolepsy.

Self-Treating Narcolepsy With Cocaine

Few studies have been conducted on cocaine abuse in people with narcolepsy. However, one study found no difference in cocaine use between people with narcolepsy and without.

Provigil as Treatment for Cocaine and Narcolepsy

No cure currently exists for narcolepsy, but it can be treated. Provigil is one type of treatment that is FDA-approvedfor narcolepsy. The drug is a stimulant that works on the central nervous system; doctors are not sure exactly how Provigil works on people with narcolepsy, but they know that its stimulant effects increase alertness. Doctors also know that Provigil can increase the amount of dopamine, the same brain chemical that is increased by drugs like cocaine. However, Provigil does not increase dopamine as much as other stimulants.

Although Provigil is not FDA-approved for treating cocaine use, doctors found that Provigil can help some peoplewho struggle with cocaine. Doctors think this is because Provigil can affect levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and glutamate.

Although not all studies show that Provigil helps people who use cocaine, other studies found that Provigil has effects like:

  • Lessening cocaine withdrawal symptoms
  • Reducing cravings for cocaine
  • Lessening the high from cocaine

Related Topic: Narcolepsy cure

Cocaine and Insomnia

Stimulants like cocaine increase the level of dopamine in the brain. This neurotransmitter promotes alertness and wakefulness, which is why cocaine use can increase the risk of insomnia. Someone who struggles with excessive cocaine use may develop a severe sleeping problem.

The Occult Insomnia Effect

Quitting cocaine has been linked to a phenomenon called occult insomnia. With this condition, people report that their sleep has improved after ending cocaine use — in reality, sleep tests show it has gotten worse. Typically, it is difficult for people recovering from cocaine to accurately guess how long it takes to fall asleep and how long they spend awake during the night.

Reversing the Effects of Cocaine on Sleep

Doctors are still studying medications that may help to reverse sleep impairment from cocaine. Again, Provigil is considered a promising treatment because it blocks dopamine and may improve deep sleep in some people who struggle with cocaine.

Over the long-term, quitting cocaine is the best way to improve your sleep. Although early cocaine withdrawal symptoms can cause a crash that leads to excessive sleep, this is often short-lasting. It can take weeks, months or even longer for the body to reverse cocaine’s damage on sleep cycles. Typically, cocaine will continue to harm sleep for a period after a person quits the drug. While sleep impairment may continue during the early withdrawal phase from cocaine, sleep improves as the person continues cocaine abstinence. For example, some research suggests that total sleep time improves in those who have remained cocaine-free for around two months.

Find the Help You or Your Loved One Needs

Cocaine abuse can be overwhelming. Cravings and side effects like sleep problems may make you feel like there is no hope. However, help is available at The Recovery Village. If you or a loved one struggles with cocaine, contact a representative today to learn more about treatment plans that can work well for you. We’re here to help you begin the journey toward a healthier, happier, cocaine-free life.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.