Sleep is a vitally important part of your routine, its necessary to help protect your physical, mental health and is a large factor in determining your quality of life.
There is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that Cannabinoids can help induce and aid in a good nights sleep, with more and more scientific research and evidence attesting to this every month.
So does this mean that Cannabinoid derived products made from Cannabis could help you get your forty winks?
If so, could they also potentially be used in the treatment of sleep disorders such as Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, Narcolepsy, Parasomnia, and others?
In this article, we’ll take a look at:
- How Sleep works
- How Cannabis affects the sleep cycle
- How the consumption of CBD affects your sleep pattern
- How the consumption of THC affects your sleep pattern
How Sleep Works
Sleep is important in helping to restore the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems, these are vital processes that maintain mood, memory, cognitive function, as well as play a large part in the function of the endocrine and immune system.
Sleep is broken up into four stages.
The first three do not involve Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
REM (Non-REM) is categorised into NREM Stage 1, NREM Stage 2, NREM Stage 3, NREM Stage 4 and REM sleep.
NREM stage 1 and 2 are classed as light sleep. Stage 3 and 4 are often considered to be just one stage and is known as deep sleep.
During deep sleep, the brain, body temperature, and heart rate all fall as the brain is using less energy in this state.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the stage during sleep in which humans and mammals dream. Despite decades of research, dreaming still remains one of the least understood biological processes and natural phenomenon.
Typically it takes around 10-20 minutes to fall asleep and it is recommended that us humans get 7-9 hours a night, however with the ever-increasing pace of life, Job insecurity and various stresses of living in the twenty-first century most of us fall far short of that recommendation.
So how can Cannabinoids help improve your sleep pattern? In the proceeding sections, we’ll be looking at how Cannabis and the Cannabinoids THC and CBD in particular effects the different sleep cycles and overall quality of sleep.
How Cannabis effects the sleep cycle
A picture is slowly emerging from the smoke that seems to show that Cannabis can aid in a good nights sleep. After many decades of demonisation and stigma, Cannabis is finally again been allowed to be studied and researched around the world at various academic and prestigious institutions as more and more countries wake up the harms of prohibition and the therapeutic potential of Cannabis and of its derivable Cannabinoids.
It is the individual Cannabinoids that are responsible for the sedative effect, however, the Terpenes can also induce sedative and analgesic properties, the combination of which can help improve overall sleep.
A 2017 review of recent research on cannabis and sleep, the authors concluded that THC could help people fall asleep quicker. However, there does seem to the issue of developing a tolerance following prolonged continual consumption. Taking regular tolerance breaks may negate this build up.
This study and others demonstrates the efficacy of Cannabis for aiding in sleep which in turn opens the door to a plethora of potential new novel preparations and cannabinoid products to aid in the treatment of various sleep disorders.
Cannabis and Cannabinoids could also potentially be used to reduce associated nocturnal trauma, nightmares and night terrors in sufferers of PTSD and other trauma-based conditions that can detrimentally affect sleep patterns.
This is because Cannabis decreases the amount of time spent in REM (Rapid Eye movement) the cycle we dream in most and is associated with vivid and memorable dreams.
It also increases the amount of time spent in NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) stage 3 (previously 3 and 4 NREM) the cycle associated with deep sleep.
Dreaming does occur at this stage, however, it is rare and typically does not produce memorable or vivid dreams. It is during the deep stages of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. So prolonged time in this cycle may be beneficial to long-term health.
There are few side-effects to using Cannabinoids as a sleep aid.
Cannabis and both THC and CBD derived products respectively have been shown, as discussed above to reduce vivid dreaming and can induce a slight “stone-over” when using THC-rich strain and products or high does of CBD.
However, unlike a “hang-over”, a “stone-over” dissipates rather quickly and doesn’t have the associated nausea, headache and prolonged detrimental health effects associated with acute Alcohol abuse.
Interestingly, a 2004 study found that combining the same ration CBD to THC actually reduces stage three sleep. This could be due to the wakefulness that has been observed in CBD at moderate doses the blocking of Cannabinoid receptors by CBD molecules and inhibition of liver enzyme Cytochrome P450, by CBD which somewhat negates THC metabolism.
In the sections below we’ll be further exploring the differences between how CBD and THC can improve sleep.
How the consumption of THC can affect your sleep pattern
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the most prevalent Cannabinoid in the Cannabis plant and also the source of the “high”, the psychotropic quasi-euphoric effect traditionally associated with Cannabis consumption.
It is arguably because of this psychoactivity that Cannabis has been prohibited and remains the most demonised plant in human history.
THC has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and aid overall sleep length and quality, however, chronic and persistent use seems to negate this effect.
Late harvested crops, well cured and older Cannabis flowers will have more of a sedating effect as some of the THC will have oxidised and converted to Cannabinol (CBN), which is one of the most sedative Cannabinoids we’ve discovered so far.
Obviously, THC remains illegal in the UK, so this will not be an option for the vast majority of the population.
However, CBD is currently 100% legal in the UK and has been shown to have some of the same sleep-inducing properties of its currently illegal sibling.
In the next section, we’ll be looking how CBD effects sleep and how it differs from THC.
How the consumption of CBD can affect your sleep pattern
CBD has been shown to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep and increase time spent in NREM stage 3.
This causes less dream recall, which is potentially rather useful to those seeking to negate nocturnal trauma/nightmares and night terrors such as sufferers of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-driven disorders.
Just like its illicit kin CBD can affect the sleep cycles. In high doses, it can induce drowsiness and exhibit some sedative properties, however, paradoxically it has also been shown in clinical research to be a wake-inducing agent at moderately low doses.
A study all the way back in 1981, that was looking to potential Antiepileptic effects of CBD was one of the first to confirm that CBD promoted somnolence, this potentially suggests that Cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
In 2013, a team administered different dosages of CBD to groups of rats and compared their sleep habits to a group of control rats that received no CBD.
The result was that the rats given CBD showed longer total sleep time. They also observed that they didn’t nap or sleep during daylight suggesting that they’d achieved a stabilised, or normalised sleep cycle after the use of CBD.
Although, we must take rodent studies with a pinch of salt as too often the research simply doesn’t scale up to humans. They too have an ECS (Endocannabinoid System) so this may be an exception to the rule.
As with THC, CBD shows potential in the treatment of Insomnia. Traditionally Insomnia has been treated with a short burst of opioid-based medications, but these drugs, unfortunately, come with a raft of rather severe side effects, a high risk of abuse, the risk of overdose and are too often insufficient to help many patients find relief.
As discussed above both the Cannabinoids THC and CBD can be used to help defer REM sleep cycles, effectively negating dreaming. Which could prove rather useful in treating trauma-based conditions like PTSD and its associated traumatic memories and flashbacks.
Their memories may be manifesting nocturnally as dreams and nightmares inducing Insomnia, RBD or other sleep disrupting disorders.
There is an interesting case of a young girl in Colorado who suffers from PTSD.
She was suffering reoccurring nocturnal nightmares, nightly reliving her trauma and subsequently became hyper-vigilant, highly stressed and obviously, extremely anxious.
She was left struggling to maintain a healthy sleep pattern which consequently quickly began detrimentally effecting behaviour.
Following the failure of all other traditional pharmacology, CBD was administered daily by her career. Over the first few weeks, there was a noticeable anxiolytic effect and her sleep began to stabilise and improve as the weeks pasted.
It is most likely a combination of the anxiolytic effect and the sedative nature of the administered CBD that has aided her most. The dose isn’t described, however, given what we know about CBD being a wake-inducing substance we can assume it must have been at least moderately high dose to negate this effect.
This will also be due to the fact that CBD can reduce REM sleep, meaning she won’t of been revisiting her trauma nightly which will of helped greatly reduce her anxiety and stress levels, allowing her the space to begin to heal.
CBD has been also been shown to help reduce REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) as well.
Cannabinoids have been shown to be a great alternative to traditional pharmacology and its single drug, single-use solution. These drugs too often run the risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and often come with a plethora of negative and unwanted side-effects.
Where as, Cannabinoids work by acting on the ECS (Endocannabinoid system) and can help to lower stress and anxiety levels and produce a natural sedative and calming effect that promotes quality and quantity sleep.
Furthermore, CBD won’t get you high, it isn’t psychoactive in the same way as THC, yet still has many of the same properties to promote a high-quality sleep.