Cannabis and Sleep: Can Cannabis Treat Insomnia?
Sleep is important to our overall health and mental wellness. During sleep, our bodies are working to support healthy brain functioning and maintain our physical health. Due to the stressful and fast-paced world we live in, many of us experience sleep disturbances and get less sleep overall as well as less quality sleep. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that 1 in 3 people experience, so you are not alone if it is something you experience. Since insomnia affects so many people, it is an area that many are invested in finding a solution to. Following legalization, more and more people are using cannabis to treat insomnia and help them to fall asleep. Here we will discuss the most effective use of cannabis for sleep as well as how and why it works.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Therefore, people with insomnia may not only have trouble falling asleep but may wake often and have trouble returning to sleep. People may be affected by any number of these problems when it comes to sleep, some may be affected by all three. Insomnia typically results in feelings of fatigue during the day, as well as affects mood, concentration, and memory.
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia has many different causes, and for some, the causes of insomnia may be unexplainable. The common causes are:
- Medication/Drugs: Some common medications that cause disrupted sleep are asthma and blood pressure medication. Other things like alcohol, caffeine, or smoking cigarettes also have a negative impact on sleep. Caffeine should not be consumed after approximately 12-1 pm. And you should not consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes within a few hours of attempting to sleep.
- Mental health: anxiety and depression have a negative impact on sleep, especially when anxiety and worry thoughts are associated with getting enough sleep.
- Life events/Stress
- Physical symptoms: Chronic pain or uncomfortable symptoms associated with other illnesses make it difficult to sleep.
- Other sleep disorders: Like sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome or others
Treatment for insomnia is dependent on the cause. If sleep problems have persisted for a long period of time we suggest you speak to a doctor and/or a sleep specialist to ensure there are no underlying problems contributing to the sleep difficulties. Anxiety and depression, which are common causes for insomnia, are best managed through the support of a mental health professional. An improved mood can have a positive impact on sleep; but, improving sleep can also impact our mood.
Many of us also have poor sleep habits so looking at improving our sleep hygiene can significantly impact our sleep. We discuss both of these further in a separate article on getting better sleep with sleep hygiene.
Sleep medication is another common treatment along with cannabis use.
We live in a culture where we are rewarded for ‘hustling’. So, many of us continue to live fast-paced, stressful lives in order to feel successful. And rather than allowing ourselves to slow down or take a break when we need it we often look for a quick fix solution to things like sleep problems. Here, that quick fix is sleep medication.
Though, sleep medication, both prescription and non-prescription, can have long term negative impacts. Sleep medication should only be used intermittently, for a short-duration (5-10 days maximum). More extended use leads to drug tolerance, dependence, withdrawal effects, side effects, and rebound insomnia (where sleep problems after medication cessation become worse than they were prior to taking medications).
What about melatonin?
Melatonin is the key hormone that increases sleepiness (melatonin secretion is higher in the dark, and decreases with light exposure). About 50% of people with sleep problems can benefit from up to 3mg of melatonin, taken 0.5 to 1.0 hours before bedtime.
Just because melatonin is a natural hormone does not mean that is should be used regularly. Melatonin can cause some side effects including headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability. It can also interact with other medications.
Cannabis and Sleep: Does cannabis treat insomnia?
Cannabis has been used as a sleep aid for centuries due to its relaxing and sedative effects. And now we are seeing the research to back up these claims. Initial research on cannabis and sleep shows that cannabis has a significant impact on a person’s ability to fall asleep. One study found that cannabis shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, both for people regardless of whether or not they normally have trouble with sleep. Those people with active difficulty falling asleep, cannabis use resulted in an average of 30 minutes less time in falling asleep. And those who did not have regular trouble falling asleep cannabis use helped them fall asleep even faster, by 15 minutes.
THC or CBD for Sleep: What the research says
Although all cannabinoids appear to have some sedative effects each affects our brains differently. And studies have shown that not only can cannabis make a person feel groggy in the morning but it can affect how long a person is in REM sleep which can, in turn, affect how restful a person’s sleep is.
So, which cannabinoids and which strains are best is dependant on the causes of sleep disturbances.
Although THC reduces the amount of time a person spends in REM sleep it can still be effective. Because of this diminished time in REM, THC reduces dreaming. That can be helpful to people who have conditions such as PTSD that involve frequent, disturbing dreams and nightmares. People may experience fewer dreams when using cannabis regularly. Though it is important to note that after stopping consumption, it’s common to experience a burst of dreaming.
THC also appears to have an impact on a person’s ability to breath more easily during the night so it could have a positive impact on those suffering from sleep apnea (a disorder where a person intermittently stops breathing throughout the night. A 2013 study measured the efficacy of an exogenous cannabinoid known as dronabinol (a THC “mimic”) and noted improvements in 15 out of 17 study participants following 21 days of treatment. Another 2002 study observed THC’s ability to restore respiratory stability by modulating serotonin signaling. Of course, more research is needed to determine whether or not the data is conclusive.
CBD also has sedative effects and helps to counteract the psychoactive effects associated with THC. Newer studies even suggest that CBD may be more effective in treating insomnia than THC. This is, in part, due to the fact that CBD has a positive impact on many of the things that cause sleep disturbances, including; depression, anxiety, chronic pain, etc. Also, another study also suggested that CBD does not affect a person’s sleep cycle.
Sativa or Indica: How to take cannabis for sleep
When you think about cannabis and sleep, you have probably think Indica vs Sativa. Indica’s are known for relaxing at night and sativa’s are more energizing the day. Although it’s technically true it is more complicated than this. Evidence suggests it may be beneficial to pay attention to the cannabinoids and terpenes present in the strains that work best for you. Check out Leafy’s guide to strains that improve insomnia as a place to start and talk to your local dispensary.
Because THC can have an impact on REM sleep and has the potential to cause grogginess the next morning, most professionals recommend no more than 20% THC. Including, Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician, and cannabis therapeutics specialist. And it may be helpful to pay attention to other cannabinoids like CBN as well as terpenes…… Because of this fact you may consider starting with only CBD, like our CBD tincture, CBD vape pen or CBD capsules, and then add THC later to determine what works best for you. We suggest adding THC by starting with a 3:1 CBD/THC tincture and then upping to a 1:1 CBD/THC tincture if you aren’t getting the desired effects.
How to Dose
There is no accepted dose for cannabis and sleep. So it is recommended to start with a low dose and work your way up until you find the best dose for you. It will likely be helpful to record the strain, cannabinoids including the amount of THC and dose in a sleep journal with other information about the quality of your sleep to help determine what is most effective for you. See our article on sleep hygiene for more information on keeping a sleep journal. (insert link)
Sweet dreams! Leave us a comment or tag us on social @miss.envybotanicals to let us know what sleep remedies work best for you.