Methamphetamine (N-methylamphetamine) is a medication that can be used to treat ADHD, obesity, and sometimes sleep disorders like narcolepsy (under the brand name Desoxyn).
It is also a significant drug of abuse that is manufactured in private laboratories. It goes by various street names, including meth, crystal meth, crank, glass, and shards.
Because it is a very potent central nervous system stimulant, it can significantly interfere with normal sleep patterns.
Methamphetamine is classified as a central nervous system stimulant, most often grouped with the amphetamines. Taking the drug results in the enhancement of the actions of several different neurotransmitters. It is also believed that these neurotransmitters are released in greater quantities when someone uses the drug.
Neurotransmitters affected by meth use include excitatory neurotransmitters, such as variations of glutamate, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and others. The mechanism of action leads to its medicinal and psychoactive effects.
The effects of taking meth are dose-dependent, such that people using the drug in medicinal amounts will experience increased concentration, amplified energy, and mild feelings of euphoria. These effects are paradoxical in individuals with ADHD, as they are more likely to still experience increased concentration and attention but also a decrease in impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Those who abuse the drug will take it in large amounts. They will often binge on it, leading to significant feelings of invulnerability, euphoria, delusions, psychosis, hyperactivity, problem paying attention, trouble sleeping, and significant appetite loss.
Tolerance to central nervous system stimulants like meth increases rapidly, particularly in people who abuse the drug.
People often use meth in a manner that results in efficient delivery of the drug into the central nervous system. They may grind it up and then snort, smoke, or inject the resulting powder. The effects of the drug are felt rapidly, and they wear off quickly when it is used in these manners.
Users will repeatedly administer the drug, leading to increased tolerance to its effects. Tolerance leads to an increased cycle of bingeing, which accelerates the cycle of drug abuse.
Even people who use meth for medical reasons may experience a disruption of their normal sleep cycle due to its stimulant effects.
People who binge on the drug for extended periods will often not be able to sleep for one or more days at a time while they are under the effects of the drug.
When the individual stops using the drug, the neurotransmitters affected by its mechanism of action are depleted, and they may then begin to experience drowsiness and lethargy.
They may “crash” by sleeping for significant periods. However, the effects of the drug may affect the quality of the individual’s sleep.
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When used in medicinal doses for the treatment of narcolepsy, methamphetamine appears to allow these individuals to achieve relatively normal periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
People who abuse the drug experience decreased quality of sleep and decreased REM sleep. They may also experience very vivid and disturbing dreams when they sleep.
Those who abuse the drug may experience irregular sleep patterns. Many chronic users of meth exhibit sleep patterns that are similar to their pattern of drug abuse. They go for extended periods without sleeping while under the influence of the drug and then go through short periods where they may sleep for a long time, but the quality of their sleep is usually significantly reduced.
Meth may produce paradoxical sleep deficiency syndrome (reduced REM sleep).
“Significant reductions in REM sleep are associated with a higher propensity to develop other mental health disorders. Lack of REM sleep may also increase the propensity for other issues, including irritability and restlessness, and it may lead to cognitive problems that can include issues with learning and memory.”
The diagnosis of withdrawal from stimulants like meth may include symptoms that affect the quality of sleep. People undergoing withdrawal from meth may experience insomnia or hypersomnia (extended periods of sleeping or extended periods of sleepiness). They may also experience very unpleasant and vivid dreams when they do sleep.
These symptoms may continue for several weeks or longer, depending on the extent of the person’s stimulant use disorder as a result of their meth abuse.
Issues with a significant reduction in sleep quality occur in a large number of individuals who are undergoing withdrawal from meth. Over time, people in recovery who remain abstinent from meth demonstrate an increase in their overall quality of sleep; however, studies suggest that even after four weeks of abstinence from meth, many people may still display reduced quality of sleep compared to healthy individuals.
Research studies have indicated that individuals with stimulant use disorders have significantly more issues with daytime sleepiness and poor quality of sleep than individuals without these disorders.
According to APA, there may be a relationship between the development of sleep disorders and chronic stimulant abuse. Chronic abuse of meth has been empirically demonstrated to produce significant alterations in the brain. It may even produce damage to various portions of the brain that can affect the long-term quality of an individual’s sleep cycle.
Moreover, individuals who chronically abuse methamphetamine are at a greater risk to develop serious mental health conditions, such as psychotic conditions. These individuals typically have poor sleep habits and reduced overall quality of sleep.
The use of medications like benzodiazepines or mild stimulants like Provigil (modafinil) is typically considered only a short-term solution for most individuals with sleep disorders.
The preferred approach is to use therapy that includes teaching sleep hygiene techniques (see below) and other skills to help the individual develop habits that facilitate sleep.
Herbs, such as different types of herbal tea and vitamins, may help to improve the quality of an individual’s sleep. However, these remedies are not reliable and may not work for everyone.
The best long-term solution for sleep issues associated with meth abuse includes long-term abstinence, the continued practice of therapeutic techniques like sleep hygiene, and stress management techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
Engaging in moderate exercise (if approved by a physician) and eating a healthy diet can also help.
Therapeutic techniques, such as hypnosis, may also be useful in helping the person recover some of the quality of their sleep.
The use of sleep hygiene, along with stress management and other techniques learned in therapy, can help an individual recover some level of a regular sleep cycle following long-term meth abuse.
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(March 2007). Persistence of Tolerance to Methamphetamine-induced Monoamine Deficits. European Journal of Pharmacology from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17239369
(February 2019). Desoxyn. RxList from https://www.rxlist.com/desoxyn-drug.htm
(November 2016). Does Abstinence Resolve Poor Sleep Quality in Former Methamphetamine Dependents? Sleep Science from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1984006316300888
(2019). Sleep Hygiene. National Sleep Foundation from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene