Evidence based

CBD and Sleep Disorders: Current Research & Understanding

Sleep deprived? Sleep loss has a profound effect on both physical and emotional health. Cannabis has been used medicinally for hundreds of years as a natural, and calming sleep aid. Is there any research to back this up?

Article By
Jodi Allen , posted 2 months ago

Sleep is an essential component of optimal health and cognitive function. 

There has been extensive research on the effects of sleep deprivation on college students, medical students, and even those in intensive care units. 

As you probably know, it only takes one miserable night of sleep to feel the consequences. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS) recently developed a consensus recommending adults get at least 7 or more hours of sleep per night [1]. 

Even short term sleep deprivation can cause metabolic changes, epigenetic changes, and cardiovascular issues.

Your brain naturally produces neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids that help regulate sleep. CBD leverages the endocannabinoid system to help users get a good night’s rest. 

A 2016 study on CBD showed its effectiveness at reducing insomnia in children with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

There’s no doubt CBD has a lot to offer sleep-deprived individuals, but how does it work? What are the benefits of CBD on sleep disorders, and where does it fall short?

In this article, we’ll explore how CBD can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • Table of Contents

What is CBD?

The cannabis plant is made up of hundreds of different compounds — most notable are the 100+ individual cannabinoids. These are of particular interest in research because the human brain contains natural cannabinoid receptors. This means we can produce our own natural cannabinoids! These chemicals are neurotransmitters and are referred to as endocannabinoids (endo meaning inside). 

 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have received the most attention. These compounds have distinctly different interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors.

This system modulates neurobiological processes such as learning and memory, attention, pain perception, emotional states, and sleep [2].

THC is the chemical compound responsible for the “high” that happens after ingesting marijuana. Acute THC intoxication from smoking or eating cannabis products can cause impaired memory, changes in mood (including increased anxiety and paranoia), and increased daytime sleepiness. The long-term effects of THC use include decreased focus and memory, as well as decreased dopamine production. Since dopamine has multiple functions in the brain, the results of this dopamine drop are still being explored.

CBD, unlike THC, does not produce euphoric and other psychoactive effects when ingested.; instead, it delivers a gentle, calming, anti-anxiety effect. CBD can be extracted from the cannabis plant, purified, and has been shown to be effective when treating pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and a host of other conditions. 

How Does CBD Help With Sleep?

Thanks to its calming and pain-relieving properties, CBD can help treat the symptoms that are associated with disrupted sleep. It has also been shown to regulate the sleep-wake cycle due to its anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant effects [3].

1. CBD May Relieve Insomnia

One of the most commonly observed effects of high-dose CBD is sedation [4]. CBD helps to improve not only the overall quality of sleep but also the quantity [5].

2. CBD May Relieve Anxiety

Stress-induced anxiety can lead to disrupted sleep patterns. CBD has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety [6]. Combined with adequate sleep hygiene CBD may be a useful supplement for reducing anxiety symptoms to help us get to sleep more easily at the end of the day.

3. CBD May Reduce Nightmares

If nightmares or flashbacks are keeping you awake at night, clinical trials have shown that CBD can cease or significantly reduce nightmares and persistent memories [7].

4. CBD May Improve Sleeping Patterns

CBD has shown promising results for people with REM sleep behavior disorder — a condition that causes people to act out physically during REM sleep. It’s also been found to support those with excessive daytime sleepiness by increasing total sleep time [8]. CBD can help to reset sleep patterns, influencing longer periods of uninterrupted sleep.

5. CBD May Alleviate Chronic Pain

The endocannabinoid system is involved in managing pain perception. Many patients have reported replacing their prescription pain medications with CBD, particularly in the treatment of headaches, mental health disorders, insomnia, arthritis, and other chronic pain syndromes. There’s even evidence that CBD can be used to help wean people off of opiates/opioids [9].

What Is Healthy Sleep?

Healthy sleep doesn’t just come down to the amount of sleep you’re getting each night. To wake up refreshed and clear-headed, you need to make sure the quality of your sleep is good. Quality is measured in the number of sleep cycles you complete in the night. Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle due to noise, sleep apnea, or stress all contribute to poor sleep quality. 

A full sleep cycle lasts about 90 to 110 minutes. 

In these cycles, our brain fluctuates between non-REM (NREM) and REM sleep. In the first few cycles, we experience longer deep sleep time and shorter REM time. As your sleep progresses, you’ll spend more time in REM sleep with brief periods of wakefulness.

The Five Stages of Sleep

Two things regulate our need to sleep

  1. Our internal circadian clock
  2. A built-in wake-sleep homeostasis 

According to the Rechtschaffen and Kales manual, there are five stages of sleep.

Stages one and two are considered to be light sleep, three and four are deep sleep, and the final stage is REM sleep.

Let’s go over each sleep stage in more detail. 

1. Stage One

The first stage is light sleep with small brain waves. We drift in and out of sleep, our eyes move slowly, muscle activity decreases, and we can be woken up easily.

2. Stage Two

The body starts preparing for deep sleep. Eye movements and brain waves slow down, body temperature drops, and heart rate slows down.

3. Stage Three

During the third stage, we enter deep sleep. Extremely slow brain waves called delta waves are intermixed with smaller, faster brain waves. Muscle activity is also much lower during this stage.

4. Stage Four

The fourth stage is a very deep sleep where the brain almost exclusively produces slow delta waves and rhythmic breathing.

5. Stage Five (REM Sleep)

REM sleep is when most dreaming happens, your eyes move rapidly, blood pressure and heart rate rise, and the brain becomes much more active.

Signs that Suggest You May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Yawning
  • Irritability
  • Moodiness and negativity
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Brain fog
  • Increased appetite
  • Cravings for high carbohydrate foods
  • Poor impulse control

Three Common Sleep Disorders

1. Insomnia

Insomnia is a condition in which people find it difficult to either fall asleep and stay asleep. It can be caused by many factors such as pain, a chronic respiratory disease, medication, caffeine, alcohol, and psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety. Sometimes, even stress can cause bouts of insomnia.

2. Snoring

Snoring occurs when the respiratory muscles relax and narrow, causing a vibration in the throat. Being overweight increases the risk of snoring — the more restricted the airway, the louder you will snore.

3. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious condition where you stop breathing for 10 seconds while you’re sleeping. Signs and symptoms include dry mouth, sore throat, or headaches in the morning. See your doctor if you think you might have sleep apnoea.

What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep deprivation causes a host of issues, including decreased attention span, short-term memory problems, and the inability to mimic emotions. These activities are tied to various regions of the brain, where there’s a decrease in task-related brain activity.

Sleep disruption also affects the hypothalamus — which is the part of the brain responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythm. Long-term sleep issues may lead to metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune system issues. 

Health Effects of Poor Sleep

In 2014, the CDC reported that about 35.1% of all adults got less than 7 hours of sleep per night. This comes along with other studies that indicate a close correlation between the amount of sleep and health problems — it’s no wonder that sleep deprivation can increase mortality rate. 

Insufficient sleep in the long term may contribute to:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Depression and mood disorders
  • Dementia
  • Impaired immune function
  • Increased pain
  • Poor cognitive function and memory
  • Increased errors and mistakes
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Decreased alertness
  • Low sex drive
  • Aging skin
  • Increased mortality rate

Treatment Options for Sleep Disorders

If you feel you may have a sleep disorder, keep a sleep diary, and discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

Severe sleep disorders should be further investigated and may need treatment at a sleep research center.

Benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and melatonin receptor antagonists are drugs often prescribed for sleep problems.

They tend to only be effective in the short term, and many lose their beneficial effects in just a few weeks. Plus, benzodiazepines are highly addictive. Below are a few tips to help you develop good sleeping habits, on top of any other suggestions by your physician.

Tips for Getting Better Sleep

1. Get The Timing Right

Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day — even on weekends! This will help regulate your body clock (circadian rhythm).

2. Practice a Sleep Routine

Create a ritual to prepare for sleep. Take a warm bath with magnesium flakes, meditate, read, and do breathing exercises. All these things can help you wind down and get your body ready for sleep.

3. Optimize Sleep Conditions

Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and comfortable. Use blackout curtains to keep the room dark. Earplugs are a good idea to keep out unwanted noise.

4. Avoid Stimulants

Avoid alcohol, energy drinks, and caffeine for at least 4 to 6 hours before going to bed. These stimulants can interfere with deep sleep (caffeine does not have this effect on everyone, but it’s very common).

5. Exercise Regularly

A regular exercise routine can help you achieve a good night’s sleep — but try not to do any strenuous activity too close to bedtime as it can have the opposite effect.

6. Eat Well

Try not to eat 2 to 3 hours before bed as eating late or having large meals at dinner can cause blood sugar spikes. 

Foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan (almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.) are natural sleep inducers.

7. Limit Screen Time

Sleep quality suffers from exposure to blue light emitted by devices. Instead of scrolling through Facebook before you go to bed, read a book or magazine, and avoid staring at a screen. You can also turn on the “night mode” setting on your phone, which decreases the amount of blue light and turns the screen a yellowish color at night.

Tips on Using CBD Oil for Sleep Effectively

The way you respond to CBD is highly individualized, so it may take some trial and error to get the right dose for you.

1. Start Low and Go Slow

As a general rule, we recommend that you begin with a small dose and gradually increase until the desired effects are achieved.

2. Use Larger Doses

Interestingly, CBD can assist with both falling asleep and staying awake. CBD isn’t considered a sedative in smaller doses, but it is in larger doses (300 mg or more).

3. Try Different Formats

CBD can be taken as oil or in capsule form. It is also available as tinctures, soft gels, and lozenges. Dosages vary depending on the product, so it’s essential to read the label and start with the smallest recommended dose.

4. Record Your Progress

Keep a daily journal of dosages, timings, and symptoms. This will help you to find your optimal dose and determine whether the CBD is helping with your sleep symptoms over time.

Is CBD Oil Safe?

CBD is generally well-tolerated and has minimal side-effects. Some people experience dry mouth, drowsiness, lightheadedness, and low blood pressure.

You can’t overdose on CBD. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD oil, in its pure state, does not cause harm or have the potential for abuse even at high doses [10].

However, quality counts.

The research we have discussed here is based on using high-quality CBD, that is free from contaminants and artificial additives.

Final Thoughts: CBD for Sleep Disorders

As acceptance of CBD widens and new research comes to light, we continue to gain a better understanding of the positive effects that CBD can have on sleep disorders.

If you’re suffering from a lack of quality sleep, adding high-quality CBD oil could be away to get the rest that your body needs by helping to prime your nervous system to slow down and relax when it’s time to go to bed.

For best results, it’s important to take some time to find the best dose for your body. Start with a small dose, and build up gradually over time until you find the results you’re looking for.

We also recommend finding products specifically made to help you sleep — these supplements often contain things like melatonin, tryptophan, or various herbal supplements to support the sleep-inducing effects of CBD.

References

  1. Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., … Tasali, E. (2015). Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep, 38(6), 843–4. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4716
  2. Murillo-Rodriguez, E., Pastrana-Trejo, J. C., Salas-Crisóstomo, M., & de-la-Cruz, M. (2017). The Endocannabinoid System Modulating Levels of Consciousness, Emotions, and Likely Dream Contents. CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, 16(4). https://doi.org/10.2174/1871527316666170223161908
  3. Mendiguren, A., Aostri, E., & Pineda, J. (2018). Regulation of noradrenergic and serotonergic systems by cannabinoids: relevance to cannabinoid-induced effects. Life Sciences, 192, 115–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2017.11.029
  4. Crippa, J. A., Guimarães, F. S., Campos, A. C., & Zuardi, A. W. (2018). Translational Investigation of the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a New Age. Frontiers in Immunology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/FIMMU.2018.02009
  5. Russo, E. B., Guy, G. W., & Robson, P. J. (2007, August 1). Cannabis, pain, and sleep: Lessons from therapeutic clinical trials of sativexρ, a cannabis-based medicine. Chemistry and Biodiversity. Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/cbdv.200790150
  6. Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015, October). Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
  7. Jetly, R., Heber, A., Fraser, G., & Boisvert, D. (2015). The efficacy of nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, in the treatment of PTSD-associated nightmares: A preliminary randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over design study. Psychoneuroendocrinology,51, 585–588. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.11.002
  8. Babson, K. A., Sottile, J., & Morabito, D. (2017). Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature. Current Psychiatry Reports, 19(4), 23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0775-9
  9. Baron, E. P., Lucas, P., Eades, J., & Hogue, O. (2018). Patterns of medicinal cannabis use, strain analysis, and substitution effect among patients with migraine, headache, arthritis, and chronic pain in a medicinal cannabis cohort. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 19(1), 37. https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-018-0862-2
  10. WHO. (2017). WHO | Cannabidiol (compound of cannabis). WHO. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/qa/cannabidiol/en/

Conditions that may Respond to Cannabidiol