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What Happens When You Sleep High: Understanding the Effects of Drug Use on Sleep

an assortment of pills and drugs - medicinal, vitamins, recreational

Sleep is a fundamental human need, crucial for physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life. However, the use of recreational drugs can significantly alter sleep patterns, affecting the quality, duration, and structure of sleep. This article delves into the effects of various recreational drugs on sleep, providing insights for those curious about "what happens when you sleep high."

The Impact of Marijuana and Alcohol on Sleep

marijuana leaf - what happens when you go to sleep high

Going to sleep high on Marijuana is known to increase slow wave sleep (SWS), which is considered the most restorative phase of sleep. However, it also suppresses rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage associated with dreaming and memory consolidation. The effects of marijuana on sleep can persist days after its acute effects have ceased, indicating a long-lasting impact on neuronal activity and sleep architecture [1].

alcoholic beverage, cocktail - what happens when you go to sleep high

Alcohol, on the other hand, decreases SWS and suppresses REM sleep. While it might help people fall asleep faster, it disrupts sleep in the second half of the night, leading to a decrease in overall sleep quality. The reduction in sleep onset latency and a more consolidated first half of sleep are counterbalanced by increased sleep disruption and a significant decrease in total night REM sleep percentage at moderate and high doses of alcohol [2].

Cocaine, MDMA, and Other Stimulants

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that activates the central nervous system, leading to heightened alertness, thereby hindering the onset of sleep. However, this disrupts the sleep cycle, especially REM sleep, which is crucial for memory and learning. This disruption can result in poor sleep quality, frequent awakenings, and, over time, a vicious cycle of sleep disturbances and increased cocaine use to combat fatigue [3].

Going to sleep high on MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, can significantly disrupt your sleep quality and patterns. MDMA is a stimulant that increases alertness, which can make it difficult to fall asleep. When sleep does occur, it tends to be less restorative, with a particular reduction in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is crucial for memory and learning. Users might experience vivid dreams or nightmares and feel groggy or fatigued upon waking. Over time, repeated MDMA use can lead to persistent sleep disturbances. Studies have shown that MDMA users have shorter total sleep times, less non-REM sleep, and a marked decrease in REM sleep compared to non-users, suggesting that MDMA can lead to long-lasting changes in sleep architecture and quality [4][5].

Opioids and Sleep

Opioids, while often associated with sedative effects, can lead to complex sleep disturbances. Their use has been linked to both central and obstructive sleep apnea, with a spectrum of effects ranging from mild disruption to significant sleep architecture alteration, including decreased REM sleep and increased slow-wave sleep in some cases [4]. However, the relationship between opioid dosage, duration of use, and sleep impact remains a subject of ongoing research [6].

Benzodiazepines and Sleep Architecture

Benzodiazepines are known to increase stage 2 of non-REM sleep while decreasing the time spent in stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, along with a reduction in REM sleep time. These changes can lead to subjective improvements in sleep quality due to the increase in stage 2 sleep, but may also lead to deficits in concentration and memory due to the reduction in deep sleep and REM sleep [7].


The interplay between drug use and sleep is multifaceted, with various substances exerting distinct effects on sleep architecture and quality. Understanding these effects is crucial for both clinical practice and public health, highlighting the need for careful consideration of drug prescriptions and the management of substance misuse. Addressing sleep disturbances associated with drug use is essential for improving overall health and well-being.



  1. Zarcone, V. P. (1973). Marijuana and Ethanol: Effects on Sleep. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 4, 201-212.

  2. Ebrahim, I., Shapiro, C., Williams, A., & Fenwick, P. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 539-549.

  3. Bjorness, T. E., & Greene, R. (2021). Interaction between cocaine use and sleep behavior: A comprehensive review of cocaine's disrupting influence on sleep behavior and sleep disruptions influence on reward seeking. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 206.

  4. Allen, R. P., McCann, U. D., & Ricaurte, G. A. (1993). Persistent effects of (+/- )3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "ecstasy") on human sleep. Sleep, 16(6), 560-564.

  5. Randall, S., Johanson, C., Tancer, M., & Roehrs, T. (2009). Effects of acute 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine on sleep and daytime sleepiness in MDMA users: A preliminary study. Sleep, 32(11), 1513-1519.

  6. Panagiotou, I., & Mystakidou, K. (2012). Non-analgesic effects of opioids: opioids' effects on sleep (including sleep apnea). Current Pharmaceutical Design, 18(37), 6025-6033.

  7. Felipe Maraucci Ribeiro de Mendonça, G., Rossi Ribeiro de Mendonça, G., Costa Souza, L., Galvão, L., Paiva, H., de Azevedo Marques Périco, C., Torales, J., Ventriglio, A., Castaldelli-Maia, J. M., & Silva, A. S. M. (2021). Benzodiazepines and Sleep Architecture: A systematic review. CNS & neurological disorders drug targets.



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