Nicotine use and the internal body clock

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OccHealthSci researcher Dr. Joshua Gonzalez leads a pilot study to investigate the effects of nicotine on the body’s internal clock.

Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Unfortunately, many avoidable diseases, including heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, are associated with sleep deficiency, and sleep is increasingly understood to be critical to overall health and well-being. So, what can we learn from studying the overlap between nicotine use and sleep disorders?

For Dr. Joshua Gonzalez a post-doctoral scholar at OccHealthSci, finding answers to that question is a force to drive research forward. Gonzalez is an integrative physiologist focusing on cardiovascular, sleep, and circadian physiology.

Recently, Gonzalez received funding from the Sleep Research Society Foundation for a pilot study investigating how nicotine affects the body’s melatonin onset and what impact that has on sleep and vascular health.

According to Gonzalez, tobacco users report experiencing sleep  impairments, including shorter sleep duration, difficulty falling asleep, and daytime sleepiness. Furthermore, studies with animal models have shown that nicotine can cause delays in melatonin secretion, impacting sleep patterns. Gonzalez’s human-subjects study will test whether frequent nicotine users demonstrate delays in melatonin onset compared to individuals who do not use nicotine products.

“This study is like a stepping stone on a path to a better understanding of the relationship between nicotine use and our internal body clock,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez also notes that when individuals attempt to quit smoking, they have trouble sleeping and sleep quality predicts tobacco cessation success. Gonzalez’s work on the pilot study and future projects could inform the development of time-based therapeutic approaches to tobacco cessation. Individuals who smoke cigarettes or use other nicotine products could potentially use those approaches to improve their sleep and enhance smoking cessation success.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that cigarette smoking cost the United States more than $600 billion (about $1,800 per person in the US) in healthcare and lost productivity in 2018. By contributing to our understanding of how nicotine impacts the body’s circadian rhythm, Gonzalez’s work could support efforts to reduce the prevalence of nicotine use and promote worker health and well-being.