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How Does Heroin Affect Your Sleep?

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Aug 14, 2023 • 6 cited sources

Heroin use can lead to short-term and long-term problems, including changes in sleep. Individuals may experience decreased or increased sleep and decreased quality of sleep with heroin (or other opioid) use. 

In addition to sleep problems, heroin causes numerous other health problems. It can cause serious and irreversible long-term harm, and it has an incredibly high risk for overdose. 

Heroin’s Impact on Sleep

Opioids like heroin can negatively impact a person’s sleep patterns in a number of ways.[1] 

Opioids like heroin cause sedation, making a person calm and drowsy. For these reasons, patients may incorrectly assume that heroin or other opioids will help them sleep. Some people may use opioids in order to fall asleep, particularly if they are having difficulty sleeping due to pain. 

While this may seem like a good idea, the quality of sleep under the influence of opioids is likely of low quality. Opioids have been shown to decrease both  REM sleep and non-REM sleep, both of which are essential for energy, functioning, and memory consolidation. [5] Chronic opioid use therefore puts the individual at risk of chronic insomnia and memory changes. 

Studies also suggest that opioid use can also lead to the development of sleep conditions or the worsening of pre-existing sleep  issues.[2] Certain types of sleep apnea are strongly associated with or exacerbated by opioid therapy. Sleep disordered breathing has been shown to be common in individuals taking opioids, contributing to both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. [6]

Heroin’s Effects on How You Feel & Think

Heroin can have a number of effects on how a person thinks and feels.[3] It alters dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters in the brain, all of which are intricately connected to mood, energy, and sleep. 

Repeated opioid misuse is associated with depression.[4] This is a logical extension of the effects described above. In the person using opioids like heroin, non-chemical sources of joy do not stimulate the release of dopamine the way they normally would, and the individual needs the drug in order to maintain pleasant feelings or even just to feel “normal” and not depressed. This increased propensity for depression leads to decreased sleep quality and insomnia. 

The bottom line is this: even if heroin may temporarily help you to feel like you are sleeping by knocking you out quickly, it actually decreases your quality of sleep. The risks of using heroin far outweigh the benefits. Heroin or other opioids should not be used to induce sleep. Instead, individuals should be looking for other solutions- either pharmacological or non-pharmacological – to handle concerns with sleep, depression, or other mood disorders. 

A Need for Help

Using opioids like heroin to sleep is just one sign of an opioid use disorder. If you recognize this behavior in yourself or a loved one, reach out for help today. With comprehensive addiction treatment, you can avoid the development or worsening of an opioid use disorder, and receive treatment to help with insomnia at the same time.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

  1. Non-Analgesic Effects of Opioids: Opioids' Effects on Sleep (Including Sleep Apnea). ,em>Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2012. Accessed March 2023.
  2. Chronic Opioid Therapy and Sleep: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Position Statement. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. November 2019. Accessed March 2023.
  3. Opioids Harm the Body & Brain. Arkansas Department of Human Services. Accessed March 2023.
  4. Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report. National Institute on Drug Abuse. April 2020. Accessed March 2023.
  5. Opioid Use, Pain Linked to Sleep Problems. AASM. April 2022. Accessed March 2023.
  6. Multi-Level Regulation of Opioid-Induced Respiratory Depression. Physiology. November 2020. Accessed March 2023.

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