Dreams of smoking
Video discusses the common experience of dreaming about smoking after quitting.
The smoking dreams are common if not universal among ex-smokers. It is especially common when a person is off a short time period, and if it occurs within days or weeks of a quit, it is likely to be extremely disturbing and very realistic. Realistic enough in fact that the ex-smoker will wake up smelling and tasting a cigarette, convinced that he or she has actually smoked. I have had numerous clients search the house for the butt, it was that realistic of a sensation. Let me explain first why the physical sensation is so pronounced.
When first quitting, one of the early physical repairs that start up is cilia production. Cilia are tiny hair-like projections that line your trachea and bronchus, constantly sweeping particulate matter out of your lungs. When you smoked, you first slowed down, then paralyzed and would eventually destroy cilia. This is why smokers often have more colds and flues, they wipe out the first line of defense against the incoming microbes causing these illnesses.
When a person stops smoking, usually within 72 hours or so, cilia starts to regenerate. The ex-smoker may start cleaning out the lung in a matter of days. One of the early symptoms first encountered is coughing and spitting out, this is mucous and trapped matter that was never being cleaned out efficiently while smoking but now has an escape route and mechanism to start sweeping it. Ugly but good, you are starting to clean out a lot of garbage in your lung. Much of the garbage is tobacco tar - tobacco tars that have a very distinct taste and smell.
Let's say you are dreaming now, maybe a totally innocuous dream having nothing to do with smoking. While sleeping, cilia are sweeping, tobacco tars get brought up, reach sensory nerves for taste and smell and low and behold, you create a dream sequence involving a cigarette. But not only are you now dreaming, physical sensations of taste and smell persist upon awakening. This then becomes a real smoking sensation.
This gives a plausible explanation of why the dream occurred and why it was so vivid. But that is not the end of the significance of the dream. The dream can be interpreted in one of two ways upon awakening, and quit often, the ex-smoker takes it as a sign that they actually want to smoke. After all, they had been off smoking and just dreamt about it, that means they want to smoke, right?
I used to get calls in the middle of the night for clinic participants panicked by the dream. They would start off saying, "They can't believe it, off all this time and they still want to smoke." They knew they wanted to smoke because they dreamt about it. I would then ask them to describe the dream. They would tell about the vividness and realism, and they would almost always say it started to take on a nightmarish proportion. They would wake up in a sweat, often crying, thinking that they just smoked and blew the whole thing, that they were now back to square one. That all that time off smoking was wasted.
As soon as they would finish describing their feelings, I pointed out one very obvious fact. They just dreamt they smoked and assumed that meant that they wanted to smoke. They woke up and upon further clarification, they describe the dream was a nightmare. This is not the dream of someone who wants to smoke; it is the dream of someone who is afraid of smoking. This is a legitimate fear considering the ex-smoker is fighting a powerful and deadly addiction. Hence, it is a legitimate dream too. It kinds of gives you a sense of how bad you would feel if you actually do go back to smoking. Not physically speaking but psychologically. If the dream is a nightmare it makes you realize how bad this feeling is without having to actually have smoked and fallen into the grasp of nicotine addiction again. It can give you some perspective about how important not smoking is to your mental health.
The dangerous dream is when you smoke a whole pack in it, hack and cough, get socially ostracized, develop some horrible illness, end up on your death bed about to let out your final live breath-and all of a sudden wake up with a smile on your face and say, "that was great, wish I could do that when I am awake." As long as that is not the dream you were having, I wouldn't let myself get to discouraged by it. If that is the dream, then we may need to talk more.
In regards to smoking, no matter what you do in your dreams, you will be OK as long as you remember in your waking state to Never Take Another Puff!
More specific materials addressing cilia repair discusses above:
Video discusses cilia repair that occurs after quitting that often results in an increase in coughing.
Since the question of cilia and coughing and lung damage comes up often I figured I would try to show some illustrations as to what happens in the lungs from smoking. In this string I am going to concentrate at the microscopic level, in the lining tissue of the bronchus.
On the top we see the cilia, labeled (H). They are attached to columnar cells, labeled (I). The cilia sweep the mucous produced in the goblet cells, labeled (J) as well as mucous coming from deeper glands within the lungs and the particulate matter trapped in the mucous. The bottom layer of cells, labeled (L) are the basal cells.
The above picture is representative of a healthy non-smokers lung. Below we start to see the changes that occur as people begin to smoke. You will see that the columnar cells are starting to be crowded out and displaced by additional layers of basal cells. Not only are fewer cilia present but the ones that are still functioning are doing so at a much lower level of efficiency. Many chemicals in tobacco smoke are toxic to cilia, first slowing them down, soon paralyzing them all together and then destroying them.
As you see with the cilia actions being diminished, mucous starts to build up in the small airways making it harder for the smoker to breath and causing the characteristic smokers cough in order to clear out the airways.
Eventually though, the ciliated columnar cells are totally displaced. As can be seen below ominous changes have taken place. Not only is the smoker more prone to infection from the loss of the cleansing mechanism of the cilia, but these abnormal cells (O) are cancerous squamous cells. These cells will eventually break through the basement membrane wall and invade into underlying lung tissue and often spread throughout the body long before the person even knows they have the disease.
If a smoker quits before cancer actually starts, even if the cells are in a precancerous state, the process is highly reversible. Cilia regeneration starts in about 3 days once smoking stops. Even if cilia has been destroyed and not present for years, the lining tissue of the windpipe will start to repair. Even the precancerous cells will be sloughed off over time, reversing the cellular process to the point where the lining tissue goes back to normal. But if a smoker waits too long and cancer starts, it may be too late to save his or her life.
You just don't know which cigarette was going to be the one to start an irreversible process. To reduce your risk you must stop the deposit of the thousands of chemicals, especially the 43 known carcinogens that come in with every puff of a cigarette you take. To stop this process thus reducing your risk cancer, as well as helping to keep your lungs clean of other irritants by allowing the healing of the cilia, you must always remember and practice the simple treatment of knowing to never take another puff!
The above string explains how the healing process can cause cold like symptoms. As the cilia starts to break up and sweep out mucous, coughing and congestion can follow. On top of this there is regeneration of nerve cells that were also destroyed from the chronic abuse of smoking on the lungs and trachea. But life goes on without smoking, and people still can get infections after cessation. So while cold and flu like symptoms can often be attributed to initial cessation, there is also always the possibility that a cold or flu is also responsible. Symptoms should be treated with the same caution as you would normally exercise when you were a smoker. If long enough or severe enough, getting checked out is a prudent course to follow.
Always know the best way to help prevent such problems in the future, and even more serious lung diseases that don't just have a short course of a week or two with a return to normal, is to keep your lung from ever being assaulted again from the thousands of chemicals, hundreds of poisons and 43 known carcinogens in tobacco smoke. The only way to stop this assault is to never take another puff!
Other resources touching on cilia repair issues:
- General warning about getting colds or flu after quitting
- After quitting smoking is there such a thing as a "quitter's flu"?
- Learning how to inhale
Important resources discussing why not all new coughs should be written off to having quit smoking
- "Is this a symptom of quitting smoking?" (part 2)
- Will this get better?
- "Is anyone else experiencing the symptom of…?