Morphine is an opioid pain reliever derived from the opium poppy plant. It is used to treat moderate to severe pain after surgery, as a result of injury or as part of pain management for chronic conditions. Like other opioids, morphine works in the brain to change the way the body perceives pain.1
It also produces feelings of euphoria in the user, which can quickly lead to drug dependence and addiction. Morphine has many side effects even when used as prescribed, and some of these are directly related to sleep. When morphine is used in larger amounts or for longer periods of time than prescribed by a doctor these side effects can be even more intense.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of morphine abuse can help you or a loved prevent addiction from developing.
Morphine Side Effects
When a doctor prescribes morphine to a patient, she is often warned that insomnia may develop.2 Insomnia may also result from the chronic pain the morphine is prescribed to treat, but not being able to sleep due to pain is very different from morphine-induced insomnia. Most patients are happy to trade chronic pain for the relief that comes with morphine.
However, most patients are happy to trade the pain for morphine insomnia at least for a little while. While sleeping, the dreams of a morphine user may be unusually vivid or weird, and some people report “awake dreams” and hallucinations. Patients also report feeling sleepy and less alert during the day due to lack of quality sleep at night and the overall effects of morphine. These effects are somewhat mild.
How Morphine Affects Sleeps
Morphine not only makes sleep harder to achieve, but it also changes the sleep itself. Once people thought sleep was a time of inaction and rest, but it actually is an active process that prepares the body for wakefulness. However, even relatively small doses of morphine can reduce the duration of the following stages in the sleep cycle:
- Slow wave sleep (SWS) occurs in the third and fourth stages of the sleep cycle; it is also called deep sleep. These stages are crucial to restful of sleep.
- Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is characterized by a faster heart rate, quicker breathing and muscle twitching. It is also the period of the most active dreaming. The purpose of REM sleep relates to brain development, memory processing or maintenance of the brain’s ability to help us learn.3
When under the influence of morphine, people spend more time in the shallow stages of sleep and lose time in the deeper and more important stages.
Sleep Problems and Morphine Addiction
When individuals use morphine recreationally, they tend to increase their dosage steadily as the body develops drug tolerance. This means the person using the drug needs more of it to achieve the same results or experience.
As the dosage increases, the REM and SWS stages get shorter and shorter.
Eventually, sleep and morphine use become unpleasantly linked: heavy users may only be able to sleep while under the influence. However, with the REM and SWS stages so limited, users may awaken as the drug wears off and feel just as tired as they did before sleeping.
Mixing Morphine and Other Drugs
Those who struggle with morphine addiction may also turn to other drugs, like alcohol or other depressants, to induce sleep to sleep. Like morphine, these drugs do not bring quality sleep and the potential drug interactions can be dangerous and unpredictable.
When an addict commits to recovery, she must overcome insomnia without the use of medications. The body is sleep deprived after a period of regular morphine abuse so it craves as much sleep as possible. But a person in withdrawal can suffer so much pain it makes sleep impossible.
Finding ways to manage pain naturally or with holistic methods, as well as get quality sleep during morphine withdrawal, is the goal. After a few days, once the body rids itself of the toxins of the drug, quality sleep will return. As with most aspects of addiction, recovery takes patience, daily commitment and the support of others to reach this goal.
Finding Help for Morphine Abuse and Sleep Problems
If you or a loved one struggles with morphine abuse or if the drug has affected your sleep, call our toll-free helpline, 678-251-3189, to learn about solutions. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to help you find treatment options.
1 “Morphine: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 21 May 2018.
2 “Morphine (Oral Route) Side Effects.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 1 Mar. 2017.
3 "Types and Stage of Sleep - Introduction." Sleep Cycle: How Sleep Works. Accessed June 14, 2018.