The science behind cannabidiol (CBD) and deep, restorative sleep explained.
Cannabinoids are highly-lauded by experts, editors, and everyday users alike—but how does the gold-star ingredient actually work? If you've ever asked yourself this question, you're not alone. And you're in just the right place. Here, we'll break down exactly how CBD benefits the brain, sleep-wake cycle, and sleep quality in both the short-term and the long haul.
In this article, we're covering how CBD supports sleep by:
- Bringing you back to homeostasis and restoring circadadian processes
- Regulating the stress response
- Reducing cortisol levels
- Promoting alpha and theta wave activity in the brain
- Increasing tryptophan levels
While the pathology of insomnia and poor sleep quality is unique to each individual, CBD is a multi-tasking ingredient that modulates an impressive number of molecular targets to target issues at their source. Too anxious to sleep? You'll love it. Keep waking up? Prepare for it to become your new holy grail. Are tense muscles and sore joints a concern? Yeah, you’re going to want to add it to your routine, ASAP.
1. CBD, homeostasis, and sleep.
Homeostasis describes the tendency for bodily functions and systems to fluctuate and adjust in order to maintain a steady state of equilibrium, or balance. These actions are derived from feedback loops which serve as mediators to a changing external environment.
Take for instance our day/night circadian rhythms regulated via melatonin; regulation of food intake; cortisol levels; core body temperature; and the timing of other biological processes.
CBD indirectly interacts with your Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a highly complex physiological system found in all mammals and most living organisms with a vertebrate, to bring you back to homeostasis.
Well, research suggests the ECS is our master system, supreme to and in control of all other systems found in our body. Its primary functions are to regulate the stress response, restore balance, and maintain the function of multiple organs and vital tissue.
Your ECS relies on endocannabinoids, or cannabinoids naturally produced in your body, to carry chemical messages throughout the ECS and maintain its carefully choreographed cascade of processes. When your ECS is compromised, your body loses its ability to effectively bring you back to homeostasis. This impairs your body's ability to deal with stress and disease. In extreme cases, this manifests as a Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency, a condition that is increasingly linked to chronic diseases such as endometriosis.
CBD helps strengthen your endocannabinoid tone and restore ECS function by preventing endocannabinoids from binding with the ECS. By preventing their reuptake, they stay in active circulation for longer and help bring you back to homeostasis, restore circadian processes, reduce stress-associated anxiety behaviors, balance inflammation and immune response, and prevent stress-related impairment.
2. CBD and the stress response.
Speaking of the stress response...
Stress impairs sleep and has been claimed to be one of the triggering factors of emotional-related sleep disorders.
The stress response is a well-defined physiological function that we frequently activate. It's nothing to worry about, usually. However, the stress response can sometimes be inappropriate, excessive, or prolonged. This can hinder, rather than help with, coping with stress, impair normal functioning, and increase the risk of mental health disorders.
The endocannabinoid system is one of the main regulators of the stress response. In its normal state, called the basal tone, it inhibits the stress response. Increasing and decreasing this tone permits and inhibits the stress response respectively. Conversely, a chronic deficiency in the endocannabinoid tone is associated with the pathological complications of chronic stress.
Luckily, CBD can strengthen endocannabinoid tone to inhibit the stress response at its source.
There have been seven double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials of CBD for stress on a combined total of 232 participants and one partially controlled study on 120 participants. All showed that CBD was effective in significantly reducing the stress response and was non-inferior to pharmaceutical comparators, when included. The clinical trial results are supported by the established mechanisms of action of CBD (including increased endocannabinoid levels) and extensive real-world and preclinical evidence of the effectiveness of CBD for treating stress.
3. CBD, cortisol, and sleep.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is a particularly destructive component of the stress response.
Cortisol normally peaks in the early morning and declines throughout the day, reaching its lowest level around midnight. This pattern can change during the winter, during periods of high stress, or if you work a night shift and sleep at different times of the day.
In small doses, cortisol is actually helpful. It helps adjust your sleep-wake cycle, manage how your body uses carbs, fats, and proteins, keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure and sugar levels, and boost energy so you can handle stress.
In a high-stress moment, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way, including sleep, growth, and immune processes. After, cortisol levels should return to normal, along with your other systems.
If you're under constant stress, the alarm bBells stay on. Continued exposure to cortisol can derail your body's most important functions, leading to everything from sleep and digestion issues, chronic mood issues, low libido, poor memory and concentration, and premature aging.
Results from seven double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials on CBD for stress show that CBD was effective in significantly reducing stress and its manifestations (anxiety, depression, burnout, fear) and was non-inferior to pharmaceutical comparators, like benzodiazepines and antidepressants.
By balancing your stress response, CBD combats the effects of stress on sleep by significantly lowering cortisol levels. This helps restore your sleep-wake cycle and other related processes, like mood, hormone balance, and neurotransmitter activity.
4. CBD promotes alpha and theta wave activity in the brain.
Brain waves are patterns of electrical activity occurring in the brain. They are crucial to all aspects of brain functioning, regulating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and signal when the body should trigger specific biological functions, along with which hormones to release and when. For example, alpha wave activity, found during meditation and flow states, is linked to enhanced learning and memory.
CBD is studied to help you fall asleep by increasing alpha and theta power spectra in the brain.
Waves on the alpha spectrum are found in phase 1 "wakefulness-sleep," which generally lasts 5 minutes and is the lightest phase of sleep. The body prepares to fall asleep, the muscles relax and sometimes twitch, breathing becomes more regular, eye movements and brain activity slow down. Alpha waves induce feelings of calm, increase creativity, and enhance your ability to absorb new information.
Waves on the theta spectrum are found in phase 2 "light sleep," which lasts about 25 minutes. The body continues to relax gradually with a decrease in body temperature, eye movements, and brain activity. heta wave activity is associated with a number of cognitive and physiological states, including learning, neuroplasticity, dreaming, daydreaming, creative ideation, and relaxation. The theta wave activity is also believed to play an important role in memory retrieval and encoding.
During phase 1, alpha waves (light relaxation) gradually give way to theta waves (light sleep) that have lower frequencies and amplitudes and characterize a state of deep relaxation.
5. CBD, tryptophan, and sleep.
Tryptophan is a precursor of two neurotransmitters that are critical for sleep and mood regulation: serotonin and melatonin.
CBD slows the degradation of tryptophan, which increases tryptophan levels in unstimulated brain areas and increases overall baseline tryptophan levels. As tryptophan is a key compound in both serotonin and melatonin synthesis pathways, increasing the bioavailability of tryptophan leads to increased levels of both of these crucial neurotransmitters. This leads to significant improvements in mood, sleep quality, and helps restore circadian processes.
Best CBD products for sleep
At My Supply Co., we recognize the importance of sleep for optimizing your performance, health, and overall well-being. Whether you're looking to find your calm in the evening, sleep better, or unlock your next flow state, we highly recommend adding CBD to your regimen.
For science-backed sleep, we recommend one of our Sleep Solutions:
- CBD Sleep Solution: For the stress head that has falling and staying asleep, CBD sleep solution offers melatonin plus clinical-grade plant-based actives that reduce stress and promote relaxation for calm, tranquil sleep.
- 1:1 Sleep Solution: For the person that has more serious sleep concerns and/or requires some night-time pain management, 1:1 Sleep Solution offers a balanced ratio of CBD and THC plus melatonin and botanical extracts for deep, restorative sleep.
- CBN Sleep Solution: A hybrid solution that's melatonin-free, CBN Sleep Solution helps you fall asleep, stay asleep, balances inflammation, and helps you manage pain for sleep that helps you repair and recover, night after night.
Good sleep starts in the AM. Ride alpha and theta waves all day by microdosing Full Spectrum, our clinical-grade CBD oil throughout the day. If you're sensitive to THC, we recommend Isolate, our hemp-extracted single-compound CBD oil.