This month marks the 10th anniversary of Stoptober – the national initiative to encourage smokers to give up the harmful habit and enjoy 31 days smoke-free. More than 2.3 million people have made an attempt to quit in the UK using Stoptober, since its launch in 2012.
Although the number of smokers in the UK has dropped in recent years, there are still more than 6 million active smokers, and it remains a leading cause of premature death. Almost 75,000 preventable deaths occur each year as a result of smoking.
What’s more, a nationwide survey of 2,000 smokers found that almost half (45%) have been smoking more since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was reportedly due to being bored in lockdown (43%) and the stress of the pandemic (42%).
So initiatives like Stoptober are clearly more valuable than ever. But quitting smoking can feel like an insurmountable hurdle for those left to do it without support and guidance. A great deal of willpower is required to quit for good – and that’s where sleep comes in.
Let us explain why getting sufficient sleep is an essential component in the mental determination, motivation and fortitude to break a bad habit like smoking.
The science behind sleep and willpower
Our ability to exert self-control and the quality of sleep we enjoy are inextricably linked. In recent years, research has continuously shown how the risk of giving into temptation grows when we’re suffering from sleep deprivation.
One study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience explored the interaction between sleep and willpower, finding that sleep deprived individuals are far more likely to give into their impulses. A lack of sleep can result in less focus and a greater likelihood of making risky decisions.
Being sleep deprived can impact your self-control in more than one way, as it can both reduce your capacity to display willpower and lower the energy needed for your willpower too.
Lack of sleep leads to riskier choices
When we fail to get enough sleep, everything from our attention span to our judgement can all become compromised. The reward centre of your brain holds more sway when you haven’t slept, so cravings are more powerful. In other words, everything from junk food to smoking seems more tempting when we’re tired.
One study published in Nature Communications explored this relationship by looking at the connection between sleep deprivation and junk food. Researchers found that our brain activity spikes at the thought of food when we’re sleep-deprived, making it harder to resist temptation. Sugars and fats are difficult to resist when you are suffering from a lack of sleep, and the same is true when it comes to smoking.
A two-way street: quitting smoking can improve sleep
The correlation between sleep and quitting smoking works both ways, of course. Just as good sleep can improve your efforts to quit, stopping smoking can also improve your sleep quality.
Not only does smoking increase your chances of suffering from sleep conditions like sleep apnoea, but nicotine is also a stimulant. This means that it can make you feel more alert in the short term, which can make it more difficult to sleep, especially if you’re smoking late at night.
Quitting smoking can improve your health in countless ways, improve your breathing, heart health, mental wellbeing and more. If you’re trying to kick the habit for good this October, improving your sleep health and greatly increase your chances of success.