Like many other substances, diet, lifestyle, genetics, life experiences, and other environmental factors, CBD can affect the quality of our sleep. We do not know much about the relationship between sleep quality or duration and the consumption of cannabinoids in different medical conditions. Many people suffer from some form of sleep disorder, and research labs are trying to understand how the newly discovered cannabinoid system might play an important role in sleep-wake switching.
Many users use cannabis as a sleep enhancer, and most have their own preferred strains, routes of use, and dosages. CBD-rich strains are typically the most sought after, as they avoid the potential anxiety effects of THC. Today, hemp extracts with a high concentration of CBD and no THC content represent a safe but almost always effective alternative to improve relaxation and sleep quality in adults, as well as in children, the elderly or pets.
A sleep disorder is a deviation from normal sleep patterns. The most common type is insomnia, although many other disorders can affect our rest: sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, nightmares or night terrors, night walking, somniloquy, brusism, and a few more. Sleep disorders can seriously affect our health and fitness, as sleep deprivation decreases physical performance and alertness. Chronic sleep disorders can also impair memory and cognitive abilities.
Millions of people suffer from insomnia or lack of sleep. Many mild sleep disorders can be reduced or even eliminated simply by incorporating consistent sleep habits and making a few lifestyle changes. In any case, before giving up and falling into the trap of sleeping pills, it might be interesting to try to find out if nature can help. Cannabis probably can.
The science of cannabinoids at night
In the mid-1970s, a study on patients with insomnia showed that cannabis use reduced the time it took to fall asleep and decreased the number of interruptions during the night (Cousens and DiMascio, 1973). This was confirmed in other studies carried out by Schierenbeck, Riemann, Berger and Hornyak, in 2008 and 2013. Other research found that cannabis is able to facilitate falling asleep and increase the duration of its deep phase. Cannabinoids have also been clinically shown to be effective in combating nightmares in military personnel affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (Jetley, Heber, Fraser, Boisvert, 2015; Fraser, 2009). The ability of cannabinoids to “suppress dreams” seems to be very effective in this type of syndrome.
Recently, a laboratory trial in rats also found that a THC-like synthetic cannabinoid was effective in attenuating serotonin-induced sleep apnea by relaxing the chin and tongue muscles. These results suggest that it could be a potential treatment for dangerous apnea in humans. Although THC can controversially improve sleep quality, a recent study claims that people with insomnia are more likely to use cannabis strains with significantly higher CBD concentrations.
Revitalizing your days, resting at night
The action of CBD is still not completely clear, although it seems obvious that this cannabinoid exhibits bipolar behavior. In low doses, cannabidiol generates an alert state, probably because it activates the same adenosine receptors as caffeine. This effect can be beneficial to combat daytime sleepiness, which often translates into sleepless nights. On the contrary, in higher doses, CBD acts as a tranquilizer and muscle relaxant, although it cannot really be considered as a sedative in the strict sense. These seemingly opposite effects of CBD could help clinicians manage sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness.
A study from the Department of Neuroscience and Behavior of the University of São Paulo investigated the effects of cannabidiol on the sleep-wake cycle. Laboratory rats were injected with different amounts of natural CBD extracts, and sleep patterns were recorded during light and dark periods. This acute and systemic administration of CBD managed to increase the total sleep time of the mice.
The same research center discovered in another study that CBD can improve certain behavior disorders during REM sleep. These types of disorders, often associated with other neurological problems, cause the patient to “respond” to their dreams with kicks, punches, screams, jumps, or similar actions. These unpleasant and potentially dangerous behaviors have been alleviated with the controlled administration of CBD, especially in patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Finally, another study found that nearly half of adults who freely choose to purchase medical cannabis from legal dispensaries in the United States used the herb to treat their insomnia. Most of these consumers preferred varieties with much higher than average amounts of CBD. (Belendiuk, Babson, Vandrey, & Bonn-Miller, 2015).
CBD could be part of a complete natural remedy
While science continues to show that CBD and THC can affect our sleep in different ways and to varying degrees, some researchers continue to argue that terpene content may also play a significant role. Chamomile, valerian, lavender, hops, and many other herbs contain a high concentration of terpenes that are also found in cannabis. Some of these terpenes have relaxing properties and could be included in a therapeutic treatment for sleep disorders. Cannabis extracts, such as CBD oil, contain hundreds of these natural terpenes. Some of them can enhance the effectiveness of cannabinoids thanks to the entourage effect.
It is not yet clear to what extent CBD, a legal, safe and non-psychotropic medicine, could contribute to the relief of various types of sleep disorders. All we can do is closely monitor the advances of science in this area and continue to analyze the testimonials of patients with sleep problems who are experimenting with CBD-rich tinctures, oils, vapors or smokes. Many people who treat their syndromes or mild disorders with CBD experience substantial and immediate improvement in terms of episodes of these disorders, and without any side effects. In many cases they point out that CBD is able to control the symptoms of the disorder but, once again, extensive clinical trials have not been carried out to prove this.