Can cannabis really help with sleep?
Yes, cannabis, particularly THC, can be effective for improving sleep quality, especially for individuals with specific conditions like chronic pain and PTSD.
How is cannabis good and bad for sleep?
THC is very sedative, and therefore conducive on those nights where you can't seem to fall asleep. Cannabis, especially THC, can help improve sleep for individuals with specific conditions such as chronic pain, PTSD, and multiple sclerosis. It can also be used for self-treating insomnia and anxiety, although its effectiveness varies.
But THC also reduces REM sleep which disturbs sleep quality over the long run and may cause sleep disturbances once you stop using it.
Which cannabinoid should I choose for better sleep?
The choice of cannabinoid depends on your specific sleep needs. THC, CBD, and CBN each have unique properties, offering alternatives for different sleep issues. If you stick to CBD, we recommend full-spectrum CBD over CBD isolate. For more information, we wrote a practical guide to the differences between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD
How should I time and choose the form of cannabis for sleep?
The timing and form of cannabis consumption matter. Edibles, tinctures, and inhalation have varying onset times, which can affect how you use cannabis as a sleep aid.
What are the risks of relying on cannabis for sleep?
Long-term reliance on cannabis for sleep can lead to tolerance and unwanted side effects. It's advisable to use cannabis as part of a comprehensive nighttime routine and explore other herbs to address underlying sleep issues.
Tips for not developing a dependence on THC for sleep?
The trick for avoiding a dependance on THC for sleep is to mix up your night time routine. You can do this my mixing up cannabinoids, e.g. alternate nights between THC and CBD. You can also alternate herbs — try some herbal teas to get to sleep and save THC for the really persistent nights!
Which two recipes can I use for getting to sleep?
Combine passionflower, hops, and chamomile for anxious insomnia, or combine valerian root, lemon balm, and californian poppy if you're up at night because of pain.
Is there anything else I should consider when using cannabis for sleep?
While cannabis can enhance sleep, it may also alter sleep patterns and have side effects. Be mindful of your overall health and wellbeing when incorporating cannabis into your sleep routine.
There are many cannabis users out there using cannabis as a sleep aid and swearing by its ability to bring on a good night's sleep.
In fact, it's one of the most common reasons Canadians are using cannabis therapeutically; according to the Canadian Cannabis Survey 2021, about 14% of Canadians aged 16 and older who reported using cannabis said they used it for sleep-related reasons. This percentage shoots up to 38% among those using cannabis for medical purposes, compared to the 10% who are using it for non-medical purposes.
Cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBN have all demonstrated some benefits for sleep, such as reducing insomnia, improving sleep quality, and enhancing deep sleep.
Using cannabis for sleep is likely to become habitual the more it works. And it does work, possibly even a little too well.
While there is a lot of evidence that cannabis is a fantastic, effective sleep aid, simply dosing up heavily on THC before bed for months on end can end up ruining your sleep in the long term.
But there is a way you can use cannabis and mitigate this problem. It’s all in your choice of cannabinoids and using complementary therapies along the way. This article is your guide to using cannabis properly before bed, without hurting your circadian rhythm or overall sleep quality.
Does cannabis help you sleep?
Cannabis, namely THC, improves sleep for people with specific conditions; for example, cannabis can help those with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and multiple sclerosis fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night, and enjoy better sleep quality overall. A recent study found that cannabis effectively relieves symptoms for people with restless legs syndrome (RLS).
Many people also self-treat insomnia, anxiety, and pain using cannabis. Among these users, the effectiveness of cannabis for sleep is more ambivalent, though a study conducted on individuals with insomnia found that many participants reported relief from their symptoms when using cannabis.
Some studies have found that the amount and frequency of cannabis consumption has an impact on how cannabis affects overall sleep; those who use cannabis daily are more likely to report more sleep problems than occasional users or people who do not use cannabis at all.
However, non-daily users report the fewest sleep problems when compared to both daily users and non-users.
So it's clear that cannabis can help you sleep—when used in moderation. But how does cannabis work as a sleep aid, and is it right for you?
How does cannabis work as a sleep aid?
Cannabis' sleep-promoting effects are likely caused by the interactions between cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the brain. When cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they send messages to increase levels of sleep-promoting adenosine and suppress the brain’s arousal system. Together, these effects may help cannabis users feel sedated or sleepy.
Cannabis has several different psychoactive compounds that are known to promote a good night's sleep, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN). Each helps promote sleep in unique ways. Choosing the right cannabinoid can help you tackle your sleep issues without disrupting your overall sleep.
How THC helps you sleep.
THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive component of cannabis that binds to CB1 receptors in the brain and induces sleep. THC can help you fall asleep faster and increase the amount of time you stay in deep sleep, which may be beneficial for those with insomnia.
High-THC cannabis may make you sleepy by suppressing arousal; if the strain is rich in linalool, a terpene known for its sleep-promoting effects, it may also increase sleep-promoting adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that builds up in your brain throughout the day and makes you feel tired.
By resetting adenosine threshold levels and calming your nervous system, THC has a direct impact on your sleep cycle by reducing sleep latency (the time it takes to get to sleep), which is beneficial if you're unable to fall asleep.
THC may also reduce anxiety, pain, and inflammation, which can interfere with your sleep quality.
Conversely, initial research shows that THC can decrease the amount of time the body stays in REM sleep, the stage where most dreaming occurs.
How CBD helps you sleep.
A few small studies have examined CBD as a potential treatment specifically for sleep disorders.
- Insomnia: Although sleepiness is a known CBD side effect, results from studies using CBD to treat insomnia have been mixed. Animal studies indicate that its efficacy may depend on the dose. CBD at a variety of doses leads to more sleep, but those who consume lower doses may fall asleep faster.
- Sleep apnea: A few small studies have seen positive results when using cannabinoids to treat sleep apnea. Cannabinoids appear to prevent pauses in breathing during sleep in animal studies. However, studies in people are still in the earliest stages.
- Narcolepsy: Research on the connection between cannabinoids and narcolepsy is still in the earliest stages. While some people find that CBD helps them sleep, others note that it keeps them awake.
Because few studies have looked at CBD in treating sleep problems, more research is needed to understand if CBD may be an effective treatment for sleep disorders.
Instead, CBD shows immense promise in improving your sleep if your sleep disturbances are caused by stress or its manifestations (anxiety, depression, PTSD, burnout). In 7 clinical studies, CBD was shown to be non-inferior to pharmaceuticals like SSRIs and benzodiazepines in inhibiting the stress response and treating its manifestations.
For some people, less anxiety might mean better sleep. Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to fall asleep, and people with insomnia can develop anxiety about sleep itself. It’s unclear if CBD helps with both anxiety and sleep, or if people simply sleep better when they are less anxious.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience sleep problems, including nightmares and insomnia. These difficulties can lead to sleep deprivation, which may make PTSD symptoms worse.
CBD might be useful in preventing nightmares due to PTSD. CBD reduces activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that controls panic reactions and paranoia.
How CBN helps you sleep.
Cannabinol (CBN) is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. CBN naturally forms as the cannabis plant ages and THC begins to break down.
Because the ECS is involved in so many functions, cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and CBN can be classified in several ways, one of which is Broad vs Narrow.
CBD is a very broad cannabinoid that does a good job of regulating the stress response, immune system, and general inflammation. However, CBN is very specific and contributes to sleep and the decrease of anxiety.
Like THC, CBN has sedative effects that can make you feel drowsy, although it is a much more dialed-down version of the high. CBN also directly improves sleep quality by prolonging sleep time and reducing the number of nighttime awakenings. In addition, CBN benefits sleep by reducing anxiety, pain, and inflammation.
Clinical studies investigating CBN for sleep have yielded mixed results.
One placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted in 2023 even suggests that 15mg CBD on its own was just as effective for sleep as 15mg CBD with 15mg CBN.
Conversely, results from a more recent double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study assert that 20mg of CBN alone, taken nightly, is sufficient to improve sleep quality—without leading to daytime drowsiness or fatigue.
Does cannabis affect your sleep quality?
In addition to helping you fall asleep faster, cannabis may alter your sleep architecture, a term that describes how long you spend in the different sleep stages. Short-term cannabis use appears to increase the time you spend in deep sleep, the stage that helps you wake up feeling refreshed.
However, THC also reduces time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when you spend more time dreaming, processing emotions, and cementing new memories. When your time in REM is consistently reduced, it not only disrupts your circadian rhythm, it may also lead to:
- Daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and irritability. You may feel less alert and more tired during the day if you don’t get enough REM sleep at night. This can affect your mood, performance, and safety.
- Depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. REM sleep may help regulate your emotions and mood. It may also enhance your memory and learning abilities. If you have less REM sleep, you may experience more negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, or fear. You may also have difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- Increased risk of chronic diseases. REM sleep may play a role in maintaining your immune system, cardiovascular health, and metabolism. If you have less REM sleep, you may be more prone to infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions.
Decreasing REM sleep may have some benefits for people with PTSD, since nightmares are a common and disturbing symptom.
A study on women with PTSD found that those with more severe PTSD symptoms and poor sleep were more likely to use cannabis to help them cope. One study found that synthetic forms of cannabis significantly decreased nightmares, or stopped them completely, for people with PTSD. Some participants in this study also reported experiencing better overall sleep quality and fewer daytime flashbacks.
THC also typically acts as a sedative, though it can have a stimulating effect for some people, especially for those who are new to using cannabis or taking higher doses. In these cases, using cannabis before bed may result in a longer time falling asleep.
On the other hand, CBD is known to promote alertness at lower doses, and sleepiness at higher doses. CBD also promotes REM sleep and reduces excessive daytime sleepiness.
The effects of the two cannabinoids together may depend on the dose and timing.
Risks and side effects of using cannabis for sleep.
Used on a short-term basis, cannabis may help you fall asleep faster. Health experts generally do not recommend using sleep aids, including cannabis, on a long-term basis, because of their potential to negatively impact your sleep quality and cause other side effects.
Studies suggest that people who use cannabis as a long-term sleep aid tend to develop a tolerance to its sedative effects, and may need to take more to obtain the same results. Heavy cannabis use, especially on a long-term basis, may have consequences for sleep, including:
- Less sleep overall
- Less time spent in deep sleep
- Longer time to fall asleep
- Frequent awakenings
One study found high doses of THC at night can lead to unwanted side effects the following day, such as impaired memory and sleepiness. Cannabis withdrawal can also produce sleep-related side effects, such as strange dreams, difficulty falling asleep, and less time spent in deep sleep.
Long-term cannabis use may also have health-related side effects. Studies have found the substance may reduce the volume of gray matter in your brain and, when smoked, increase your risk of chronic bronchitis. Health experts also recommend people avoid using cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Tips for using cannabis for sleep.
If you plan on trying cannabis as a sleep aid, your care provider can provide the best guidance based on your needs and medical history. However, it helps to have an understanding of the different options available.
Which cannabinoid is best for sleep?
Different cannabinoids can offer different benefits. As a result, you should pick a cannabis product based on your specific goals and the causes of your sleep issues.
THC has shown potential for treating obstructive sleep apnea, reducing PTSD-related nightmares, and improving sleep for people living with chronic pain and inflammation. It also reduces sleep latency, or the time it takes you to go from being fully awake to sleeping.
CBD, on the other hand, may reduce symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness. It also helps to reduce stress-induced sleep disturbances, including disturbances caused by anxiety, depression, PTSD, or burnout. If you're sticking to CBD as your cannabinoid of choice, we recommend using full-spectrum CBD oil over a CBD isolate oil. Studies suggest that CBD works better with THC, even traces of it, especially for sleep, pain, and inflammation.
CBN shares many similar sleep benefits as THC, but without getting you nearly as "high." Like THC, it is sedative, reduces sleep latency, and decreases the amount of sleep disturbances and night-time awakenings.
What form of cannabis to use for sleep—edibles, tinctures, and inhaled?
Cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, eaten, or placed under the tongue as a sublingual tincture. Each format has different benefits and drawbacks. Those who are concerned about the effects of smoke on the lungs may prefer to avoid smoking it.
Different forms of cannabis offer different bioavailability, or how much of the active THC you can expect to make it into your bloodstream.
Inhaled cannabis tends to have high bioavailability and its effects can be felt almost immediately, as the THC enters your system directly. By contrast, edibles lose a significant amount of CBD or THC through the digestive process and the onset takes up to 1.5 hours, but they make up for it by converting the THC into a metabolite that's 5x more potent.
Cannabis that's smoked or vaped can have bioavailability rates as high as 56%, compared with 4% to 20% for orally ingested cannabis.
While we love edibles when we're feeling indulgent, we recommend sublingual tinctures, which offer the best balance between precision, onset time, and bioavailability. They are easy to dose with, immediately enter the bloodstream, and their effects can be felt within minutes.
When to take cannabis for sleep?
When choosing a type of cannabis, it is worth noting that different forms also take more or less time to produce effects.
When you smoke cannabis, you can generally feel the effects almost immediately. With sublingual tinctures, you feel the effects within 15 - 30 minutes. With edibles like gummies, it can take up to 1.5 hours to have an effect as they must work their way through your digestive system first.
The effects of smoked cannabis are highly variable depending on the person, the length of inhalation, the number of times it is inhaled, and other factors. It may be helpful to know that THC levels generally peak after about 10 minutes.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend taking edibles 2 hours before bed, sublingual tinctures 1 hour before bed, and smoking/vaping cannabis 30 minutes before bed.
Don't develop a reliance on cannabis for sleep.
Think about the reasons you might choose cannabis over a sleeping pill. It’s natural, it doesn’t have negative consequences, and it’s too easy to become dependent on sleeping pills. This is all good and well until you use cannabis as though it is a sleeping pill. You essentially become reliant on that THC dose before bed.
The moral of the story is: don’t rely on cannabis.
Use cannabis as a complementary tool, but not as the be-all and end-all. So what might that look like?
You might be fond of the “night-time routine.”
Make it comprehensive. Enjoy a cup of tea that warms your soul, tune in to some music and meditate for a few minutes, or bathe under some infrared light for a short while. Add cannabis to your nighttime routine instead of making it the only feature of your nighttime routine.
Consider removing electrical items from your bedroom such as computers, mobile phones, modems, etc. And try not to indulge in online activities immediately before going to bed. This is all about cultivating a space that is conducive to sleep and relaxation. It should be the number one priority when trying to achieve good sleep in the long term.
Switch up cannabinoids.
THC is the famous drowsy cannabinoid. In a strong Indica strain, THC can turn your muscles into jelly and your brain into sticky date pudding. It’s arguably the sweetest sensation to enjoy before bed. But, as we mentioned, it can also disrupt your sleep after a while.
To mitigate becoming dependent on THC for sleep, switch up cannabinoids at regular intervals. For example, think about using a CBD-based sleep formula and intervene with THC when you need some extra assistance.
For example, you can alternate between My Supply Co.'s three cannabinoid-infused sleep aids to support your sleep goals, wherever you are in your journey.
CBD Sleep Solution is formulated with full-spectrum CBD, plus Valerian Root, Passionflower, and Melatonin.
1:1 Sleep Solution is formulated with equal parts THC and full-spectrum CBD, plus Valerian Root, Passionflower, and Melatonin.
CBN Sleep Solution is melatonin-free and formulated with clinical levels of CBN and full-spectrum CBD, plus Valerian Root and Passionflower.
Keep in mind that CBD, at high doses, still produces drowsiness and can be used as a sleep aid. At the same time, it doesn’t disturb the circadian rhythm as much as THC. THC is well known to reduce REM time, but CBD hasn’t been shown to have this effect as far as we know. Plus, sleep disturbances have been noted in THC users after discontinuation. Reduce the likelihood of this by alternating between THC and CBD.
Complement cannabis with other herbs.
Cannabis isn’t the only herb that can help bring on sleep. And when it comes to herbal medicine, variety is key. This is the best way to avoid developing tolerances to certain herbs and to keep getting the best out of them. So along with switching up cannabinoids, consider switching up herbs. Here, we’ve included two herbal tea recipes you can use for a good night’s sleep.
Passionflower, hops, and chamomile.
If you’re the kind of person that struggles to get to sleep because of anxious thoughts, consider a passionflower, hops, and chamomile tea. All are beautifully sedative, as well as being great herbs to reduce anxiety. Use equal parts of all three herbs, and steep for 10 minutes in boiling water.
Valerian root, lemon balm, and Californian poppy.
For those who need something a little more hard-hitting because of pain or stress, make a tea with valerian root, lemon balm, and Californian poppy. This brew is extremely sedative, painkilling, and anxiolytic. Use equal parts of all three herbs, and steep for 10 minutes in boiling water.
Get to the root of your sleep issue.
There are a lot of different causes for insomnia, and finding the root of the problem can be difficult. But ultimately, if you never get to the root of the problem, you might never enjoy a good night’s sleep without a sleep aid.
For some people, a good night’s sleep is hard to come by because of anxious thoughts and feelings before bed. If that’s the case, it’s important to be working on anxiety levels (and not just good sleep). For others, poor gastrointestinal function can wake them up at night, making it nearly impossible to get back to sleep. If this is the case, it’s really important to address gastrointestinal problems. For others again, chronic pain can be the cause of insomnia. You get the idea.
Cannabis is a wonderful, natural sleep aid, but when used incorrectly, can actually worsen sleep quality over time. Don’t fall into the trap, and use our sound advice to cultivate a healthy relationship with bedtime.
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