Short and Long-Term Effects of Psychedelics on Sleep

psychedelics and sleep

Sleep is integral to a healthy mind and body, so it is essential to be mindful of how drugs impact restful slumber. Can psychedelics interfere with our regular sleep schedule? 

Are their effects good or bad for our sleep?

Interestingly, both sleep and psychedelics are associated with increased neuroplasticity. Moreover, lucid dreaming is subjectively the most similar state of consciousness to psychedelics. And, not only are Psychedelics powerful tools for self-exploration but they are also being studied for their fast-acting ability to treat depression. Depression and in fact every mental disorder is characterized by dysfunctional sleeping patterns. So is it possible that psychedelics treat depression by improving our sleep? 

Let's find out how different psychedelics could affect our wakefulness and sleep quality.

Why Is Sleep Important?

Why Is Sleep Important?

Before we dive into psychedelics, we should take a moment to consider just how important sleep is for our basic functioning. 

Many people have tried to find ways of reducing sleep, but it is questionable whether these techniques are detrimental to our longevity. The fact remains that evolution has not yet found a way to survive without it. Sleep participates in every aspect of biology, and its importance to health is reflected in the fact that we spend one-third of our life doing it. 

Understanding Sleep Cycles

Healthy sleep is typically defined as 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. 

A healthy sleep cycle alternates between deep sleep (NREM sleep) and dream sleep (REM sleep). People first fall into a light sleep, and then enter a long period of dreamless deep sleep. 

In the first half of the night, dream sleep is very short, but later on, deep sleep stages become shorter and shorter, whereas dreams become longer, more vivid, and in some cases even more lucid, up until you wake up again. Deep sleep and dream sleep are very different, but both are necessary for health and well-being.

Why We Need Deep Sleep

Deep sleep is important for repairing the body and maintaining physical health. 

This stage of sleep sends calming signals to the sympathetic nervous system, it lowers blood pressure and protects blood vessels from hardening. Essentially, it winds down our flight-or-flight reactions, which not only helps it reset for the next day but prevents people from developing heart problems later on in life.

Deep sleep is also essential for our cognitive health, particularly learning and memory. During deep sleep, the brain has more neuroplasticity, which means it can rewire and form new connections more easily. The brain rewires itself by replaying important events of the day, over and over, until they are hard-coded into long-term memory

Why We Need Dream Sleep

Researchers believe that bad dreams can facilitate recovery from trauma and depression by providing a means of working through negative experiences in a simulated environment that does not carry risks of physical harm. The purpose of dreams is still not fully understood, although many people believe that dreams are just as useful mind-revealing tools as psychedelics.

Sleep and Physical Health

Sleep is an essential mechanism for restoring the body and mind. It is during sleep that the body repairs and rebuilds its tissues, produce growth hormones, and cleanses the brain of toxins. Lack of sleep has been linked to many health problems, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. 

Researchers have found that chronic sleep deprivation dampens the immune response to viruses and vaccines.

Overnight Therapy: Sleep and Mental Health

Chronic sleep deprivation leads to the acute and long-term decline of cognition and increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Sleeping patterns are altered in nearly every type of mental illness, for instance, three-fourths of depressed patients report having insomnia. Researchers say that a good night’s sleep is basically like overnight therapy.

Depression and Excessive Dream Sleep

People with depression experience a greater amount of dream sleep than deep sleep. They transition much quickly into dream sleep and skip over large parts of the normal deep sleep. Furthermore, the relationship between depression and sleep is bidirectional, which means that depression can lead to poor sleep, and in turn, poor sleep leads to a bad mood, creating a vicious cycle. This may be one of the reasons why depressed people have less neuroplasticity since they do not get enough deep sleep. 

Psychedelics like psilocybin or ketamine, on the other hand, are known for their ability to rapidly promote neuroplasticity, i.e. the ability of neurons to form new connections. Researchers are now curious whether psychedelics could also help restore unhealthy sleep patterns.

Psychedelics and Sleep

Psychedelics and Sleep

In most cases, psychedelics prevent people from falling asleep, and they do not correlate with lucid dreaming (as we explore in a different article). But due to their antidepressant properties, psychedelics can also improve sleep quality. 

So, as long as we do not consider the time it takes the drug to comedown, in most cases, taking psychedelics will not mean that the user will have sleep problems the next day. But this also depends on how much it interrupts your regular sleeping schedule. 

We will first review its immediate effects on sleep and why it keeps people awake, and review its long-term (beneficial) effects on sleep quality.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Psychedelics on Sleep

psychedelics and sleep

Classic psychedelics (e.g. mushrooms, LSD) activate serotonin receptors, which are not active during sleep. Serotonin-based psychedelics keep you awake for so long because they stimulate the serotonin system by lodging themselves into the serotonin receptor, where they become stuck for hours. Eventually, the cells self-digest their own serotonin receptors in order to turn off the psychedelic’s effect. 

But other drugs, like ketamine, do not affect the serotonin receptor. Let us review some of the drug-specific differences concerning short-term effects and long-term effects on sleep.

Ketamine and Sleep

Ketamine chemical structure
Ketamine chemical structure

Ketamine is a dissociative drug that boosts extracellular glutamate concentration in the brain. It is used in a variety of contexts: a medical, a party drug that induces euphoria and out-of-body-experiences, and even as a fast-acting antidepressant.

Short-Term Effects of Ketamine on Wakefulness

Ketamine is different from serotonergic psychedelics because its effects only last for 1 - 2 hours, and it only prevents people from falling asleep for a short period. Its effects are similar to psychedelics since both drugs elevate extracellular glutamate in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and enhance neurotrophic factors that promote neuroplasticity

Long-Term Effects of Ketamine on Sleep Quality

Clinical studies on depression and ketamine show that ketamine enhances deep sleep, increases total sleep, and decreases waking during sleep. Compared to other psychedelics, ketamine interferes far less with sleep-wake rhythm and promotes better sleep quality.

Ayahuasca and Sleep

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT): The Ayahuasca molecule
N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT): The Ayahuasca molecule

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, typically mixed with the Psychotria Viridis leaves, and contains the active hallucinogenic substance DMT. The brew is used for spiritual and healing purposes in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

Short-Term Effects of Ayahuasca on Wakefulness

Ayahuasca is a powerful hallucinogenic brew that changes brain activity to a waking dream-like state. Although people are awake, it feels as if you are in a dream with your eyes open. People who use DMT are typically so immersed in their experience that they become somewhat detached from everything else.

Long-Term Effects of Ayahuasca on Sleep Quality

A study that investigated the effects of daytime Ayahuasca use found that it does not interfere with sleep quality. Moreover, ayahuasca inhibited dream sleep and enhanced the first stage of deep sleep. This is the exact opposite pattern of depressed patients, who have longer dream sleep periods than deep sleep periods, which is indicative of Ayahuasca’s potential to treat depression and improve sleep.

Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms) and Sleep

psilocybin-mushroom-psychedelic-molecule
Psilocybin chemical structure

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by at least 200 different species of mushrooms. Psilocybin mushrooms have been used for religious ceremonies by indigenous people in Mexico and Central America for centuries.

Short-Term Effects of Psilocybin on Sleep and Wakefulness

Psilocybin works mostly on the same serotonin receptors as LSD, so it keeps you awake. Unlike LSD, psilocybin does not stick to dopamine receptors, which may be another reason why it is less potent. However, it increases extracellular dopamine as an indirect consequence of its other effects. But its effects last shorter than LSD.

Long-Term Effects of Psilocybin on Sleep Quality

A recent study that investigated whether daytime psilocybin administration can improve sleep found mixed results. On the one hand, they found that it shortened dream sleep periods, which is good because depressed patients have longer dream sleep periods. On the other hand, it also impaired the quality of deep sleep brain waves. Psilocybin’s effects on sleep quality seem to be less effective than that of Ayahuasca and Ketamine.

LSD - Lysergic acid diethylamide and sleep

LSD chemical structure
LSD chemical structure

LSD (also known as acid) is a psychedelic hallucinogen that can produce profound changes in sensory perception, mood, and thinking.

Short-Term Effects of LSD (Microdosing) on Sleep and Wakefulness

LSD increases wakefulness, decreases deep sleep, and decreases REM sleep. LSD prevents you from falling asleep, and some people report it can take a very long time (several hours). Compared to other psychedelics such as psilocybin/magic mushrooms, LSD has a stronger effect on wakefulness because it also activates dopamine receptors

Most research about the effects of LSD on wakefulness and sleep quality stems from microdosing research when researchers were trying to figure out what psychedelics do. As they saw, LSD prevents you from falling asleep at very small doses, so they were more interested in figuring out how small doses affect sleep cycles. Research on LSD for treating depression (and other conditions such as sleep problems) has discontinued because regulators are stricter for researching this substance, compared to psilocybin, which has a much more medicinally neutral connotation.

Long-term Effects of LSD (Microdosing) on Sleep Quality

A microdosing study from the 1960s administered microdoses of LSD (6–40 μg) just one hour before participants fell asleep. This lengthened dream sleep by 30–240% percent, and deep sleep was frequently interrupted by irregular dream sleep. This often woke up the participants. Since depressed patients also struggle with too much dream sleep and not enough deep sleep, microdosing before going to sleep is not a good idea.

The same microdosing study found that LSD prolongs dream sleep periods on 21 nights after it was administered. However, they also found that it shortened the early periods of dream sleep and lengthened the later stages of dream sleep. This may also indicate a beneficial effect on the early stages of deep sleep, but more research is necessary.

MDMA – Methylenedioxymethamphetamine and Sleep

MDMA chemical structure
MDMA chemical structure

MDMA is an amphetamine that induces feelings of euphoria, increased energy, pleasure, and distorted sensory perceptions. MDMA is also known as ecstasy, X, or Molly.

Short-Term Effects of MDMA on Wakefulness and Sleep

MDMA can disrupt sleep, especially when taken in high doses. This is likely due to the stimulant effects of MDMA, which can keep people awake and alert. 

In rats, MDMA increases wakefulness and physical activity for at least 5–6 h, it caused alterations in their sleep-wake schedule up to 5 days later, and detrimental deep sleep patterns up to 28 days later. In monkeys, it was also found that MDMA promotes wakefulness by increasing serotonin and dopamine, but is also less potent on wakefulness than classic amphetamines that primarily increase adrenaline.

Long-Term Effects on Sleep Quality

Animal studies show that MDMA disrupts sleep-wake patterns for weeks after it is administered. However, these studies often looked at doses that are much higher than what humans consume, so we cannot always extrapolate how it affects humans. Currently, there are no clinical trials on humans that looked at how daytime MDMA impacts sleep.

Conclusion

Psilocybin Magic Mushroom therapy

In the short term (a few hours), most psychedelics will prevent you from falling asleep, and just like any other drug, this may throw a regular sleep-wake schedule off-balance. Therefore, If you choose to take psychedelics, it is important to integrate these substances into daily life in a manner that minimizes interference with a healthy sleep cycle. 

On the other hand, psychedelics are substances that have the potential to induce neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience. By doing so, they can restore unhealthy sleep structures that are highly correlated with depression and mood. Ketamine has by far the most restorative effects on sleep, followed by Ayahuasca, Psilocybin, and LSD.

Poor sleep quality is a common problem for people with mood disorders. Psychedelics may be able to treat depression and other mood disorders that are associated with poor sleep quality. Ketamine is particularly promising for restoring healthy sleep patterns, as it has been shown to improve sleep quality in people with depression. 

With the new advancements in psychedelic research, it is possible that psychedelics will be useful tools for treating sleep disorders in the future.

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