Vaping: what's in the e-cigarette cartridge, exactly?
A typical e-cigarette cartridge, or vape cartridge, is an electronic nicotine delivery system. When you inhale an e-cigarette or vape product, you're breathing in a heated chemical aerosol or vapor that nearly always contains nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Many smokers or recovering smokers feel that nicotine relaxes them, but the truth is, it's a stimulant drug — an "upper" that enhances wakefulness and alertness.
In addition to nicotine, vaping cartridges also contain additional chemicals that provide "flavor." These flavors (there are now over 7,000 different varieties) pose additional health dangers, many of which we're only beginning to understand and study.
For example, when e-cigarette juice is heated and turned to vapor, resulting compounds can include substances like formaldehyde — which you may know as a chemical used to treat wood and preserve medical specimens in jars. There is scientific evidence indicating that inhaling formaldehyde may be linked to cancer of the throat and nasal passages.
Also, according to a recent article published by PBS and Nova, some flavored e-liquids contain chemicals known to alter immune cells and compromise the immune system. What does this mean? Vaping regularly may hurt your ability to fight off colds and infections.
Some vaping flavors also include a compound called diacetyl, which is best known for giving a buttery flavor to popcorn. DIacetyl has been linked to a serious, incurable lung disease called "popcorn lung." The irritants in vapor can also aggravate alveolar conditions like asthma.
Why vaping is not beneficial for sleep
Both smoking and vaping expose your system to the addictive stimulant nicotine. Research shows that nicotine disrupts sleep in a variety of ways:
- According to studies, nicotine suppresses REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest level of sleep. Research indicates that most smokers feel less rested than non-smokers because they spend more time in the earlier stages of sleep.
- Nicotine also causes withdrawal symptoms during the night that can disturb your circadian rhythms. Smokers awake more in the night and experience more apnea events than nonsmokers. Scientists think the presence of nicotine in the system may impair the signaling system between the brain and breathing.
- Inhaling nicotine-infused smoke or vapor can lead to inflammation in the nose and throat and can narrow the bronchial tubes of the lungs, all of which can aggravate nighttime breathing. Smoking and vaping may trigger obstructive sleep apnea or make existing sleep apnea worse.
In addition to the known effects of nicotine, there's the simple fact that you're irritating your lungs by breathing in the various chemical compounds used to create and flavor e-cigarette vapor.
Daily inflammation of your lungs can lead to long-term breathing problems like asthma and COPD, or acute or chronic respiratory illnesses like bronchitis or a nagging cough. These coughing fits, combined with not getting enough oxygen when you breath, can disrupt your sleep and contribute to a host of other health problems.
Long story short: for your health, there's no upside to vaping or smoking. They're both bad for your health in general, and both contain chemicals that can pull you out of sleep or keep you awake.
Bedtime smoking (and vaping) reconsidered
Is vaping a better option at bedtime than smoking?
No. Both options include nicotine, a stimulant that increases wakefulness and insomnia. Both options cause damage to your respiratory system and your immune system. And both expose you to carcinogens. It's a mistake to trust that vaping will cut your risk of cancer; research into vaping's health effects is still in its infancy, in comparison to studies done on tobacco products.
To relax yourself into a high-quality sleep, it's best to remember the rules of sleep hygiene. One very important rule: avoid any stimulant at all before bed. This means no smoking in any form, and ideally, no recreational drug use.
Be careful, too, to avoid caffeine or energy drinks, or any kind of cold or allergy medication that may include hidden sources of stimulants (hint: before sleep, avoid taking drugs that say "non-drowsy" on the box).
Though a bedtime smoke or vape may feel psychologically relaxing, remember, you're consuming a drug that will intensify your focus and alertness. If you like the nighttime ritual of deep breathing, consider a non-smoking alternative instead, like meditation. Inhaling plain old oxygen has nothing but beneficial results.