The cannabis plant has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. Contemporary scientific research has measured what people have known and experienced since ancient times: cannabis has relaxing and sedative effects. In particular, cannabis makes falling asleep easier. One recent study found that cannabis shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, both for people with sleep problems and people who fall asleep without trouble. Among people with active difficulty falling asleep, cannabis use resulted in an average of 30 minutes less time in falling asleep. The study also included a group of people who were able to fall asleep without difficulty. Among this group of strong sleepers, cannabis helped them fall asleep even faster, by 15 minutes.
When it comes to sleep, one study showed that nearly 80% of Americans have trouble sleeping at least once per week. While 30-35% of Americans have symptoms of insomnia. Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that CBD can help with sleep.
Everybody and every body is different. When you’re deciding on a course of treatment for sleep issues, first ask yourself this question: Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both?
The research on CBD and sleep
There’s no shortage of anecdotal evidence hyping CBD’s effects on sleep—but what does the scientific evidence say?
The research at this point is pretty limited. One study from the 1980s found that people with insomnia who took 160 milligrams of CBD daily slept longer and woke less often. However, those researchers only looked at 15 people.
Bigger, newer studies are more mixed. A 2017 review concluded that CBD might have therapeutic potential for treating sleep problems, but only for people with REM sleep behavior disorder (a specific sleep disorder where people act out their dreams by moving, sleep talking, or sleepwalking). And it didn’t address how much CBD a person would need to take to reap the benefits.
Another study, published in 2018, found that consuming whole cannabis flowers (the flowering part of the cannabis plant as opposed to the leaves) was tied to a significant improvement in perceived insomnia symptoms.
The problem? The cannabis plant contains tons of different cannabinoids, so there’s no way of knowing whether the benefit came from CBD or something else. There was no control group, either. “Without a placebo arm, it’s impossible to tell whether cannabis or CBD is more effective or different than a placebo,” says cannabis therapeutics specialist Jordan M. Tischler, MD, who was not involved with the study.
Some research even suggests that CBD might make sleep more elusive. A 2014 review found that it seems to promote wakefulness, with the authors suggesting that CBD could have the potential to treat and manage sleepiness.
Identify your main sleep issues
For many people, it’s anxiety, planning, and trouble “turning off thoughts” that keeps them up at night. CBD for sleep works by treating issues that keep people awake, like anxiety, pain, and PTSD.
A 2014 study suggested CBD has both anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. Integrative Cannabis Physician Dr. June Chin says that these anti-anxiety effects are likely a result of CBD’s interaction with a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
“GABA tells the body it’s time to power down,” says Dr. Chin. “Since millions of neurons all over the brain respond to GABA, the effects include reducing anxiety, calming the nervous system, helping with sleep and relaxing the muscles. CBD is a GABA uptake inhibitor, meaning that it creates a surplus of GABA in the brain. This results in a quieting and calming effect. With CBD supplementation, patients don’t have the racing thoughts that paralyze them at work or even lying awake in bed at night.”
CBD to the rescue
There are two thoughts about how CBD works to aid in sleep. One is that CBD helps relieve anxiety and pain, both issues that can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. The other is that CBD interacts directly with receptors in the brain that govern the body’s sleep and wake cycle.
Anxiety is one of the many causes of sleep issues. If you struggle to turn your mind off at the end of the day, CBD might be what you are looking for. Stresses throughout our day, such as demands from work, tense relationships, horrible traffic, and constant distractions from social media are very common in todays society. For some, all these stresses pile on and lead to anxiety.
CBD works by interacting with our bodies endocannabinoid system (ECS), a series of receptors in our body that help create homeostasis and perform other regulatory functions, such as: appetite, memory, sleep, mood and perception of pain. When we ingest CBD, the cannabinoid goes to work to help improve the brains capacity to deal with stress. The result is a calmer mind, which leads to the ability to fall asleep faster, and stay asleep.
So, to put it simply: CBD helps you sleep by calming the mind.
Integrate CBD into your sleep hygiene routine
If you want to try CBD to improve your sleep, it’s important to get the green light from your doctor first. CBD can react with certain medications and isn’t suitable or safe for everyone.
You might also want to consider seeing a sleep specialist before trying CBD. Taking a supplement to help you snooze may ease your insomnia, but it won’t address the root cause. Your doctor can check for any medical problems that might be messing with your sleep and help you put together a plan to improve your sleep hygiene.
CBD products derived from the hemp plant can be purchased in all 50 states and there are tons of options to choose from in terms of modes of consumption and brands. Plus, in states with accessible medical and adult use cannabis programs, high-CBD or CBD-rich products are also available. These will often have a ratio of CBD to THC. Some of these ratios can still produce a psychoactive effect, like 1:1 or 3:1, but once the ratio gets to 15:1 or higher, it’s less likely to have intoxicating effects if taken in moderate doses. For some medical conditions, some THC in a product makes it more beneficial because of the entourage effect. For some looking to cannabis and CBD for sleep, adding a little THC in there may help too.
One of the most popular ways to consume CBD for sleep is CBD oil. CBD oil can be dropped under the tongue for fast-acting, sublingual effects. Or, CBD oil can be put in food or smoothies, but effects may take longer to kick in when digested. CBD edibles, like gummies and other snacks, are also becoming popular and can be a nice treat after dinner while you’re winding down. Or, if you’d prefer something more traditional, CBD capsules are available so you don’t even have to change your evening routine when weaning off sleeping pills.
Smoking CBD rich flower or vaping CBD concentrates are also options when it comes to CBD for sleep. This mode of consumption will kick in the fastest, but it can also wear off the most quickly. One of the benefits of eating CBD is that it stays in your system the longest, even though it kicks in the slowest. But if you struggle with staying asleep, CBD edibles might be your best bet.
Will CBD make me sleepy during the day?
As we have already seen, CBD works by calming the mind, not by inducing a sleepy state, or creating the intoxicating effects found with THC.
CBD can actually help you focus and be more alert: Another way to look at CBD, is to see it as an adaptogen. It works with your bodies natural rhythms. If you are awake and trying to focus on writing a blog post about CBD, it just might help you stay focused, but when going to sleep after a long day, CBD will help calm your mind for a restful nights sleep.
CBD works to increase focus and reduce anxiety by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. So, taking CBD won’t make you sleepy, but it can help you be more productive and get better sleep.
Whether you are looking to stay focused on an important project, or shut down a racing mind in the evening, CBD can help you achieve both focus and better sleep. You might want to experiment with different delivery methods though to figure out what works best for you. Some people might get more benefit from a capsule, but most people get the most direct benefits from using an oil.
CBD for sleep is helping more and more people each night find a safe and natural sleep aid and sleeping pill alternative. By addressing symptoms that keep people awake at night, like pain and anxiety, CBD helps folks sleep without making them feel drugged or groggy the next day from a strong sedative, changing the way we think about sleep aids. It’s also important to experiment with your dosages as well. Some people might need as little as 10mg per day. Others might need 30mg twice daily, or even more.