CBD & Sleep

By Ben Carson

While previous generations worked hard, they were more likely to sleep well than people in the modern era. Research indicates that 40% of Americans today sleep less than seven hours. It isn’t a significant change from the 1960s figures. However, we now sleep a full hour less than we did in 1942.

Aside from feeling tired and lethargic, there is a long list of adverse effects associated with lack of sleep:

  • An increased likelihood of an accident
  • It slows down cognitive processes like alertness, problem-solving, and reasoning
  • A higher risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure
  • Reduced libido
  • A heightened risk of depression
  • Too little sleep ages the skin
  • A negative impact on your memory
  • Weight gain

Overall, we require sleep to synthesize hormones, repair tissue, grow muscles, and rejuvenate. If a person is deprived of sleep for a long time, they will die. We know that it is of paramount importance, yet not everyone makes it a priority.

That said, there is a growing trend involving the use of CBD for sleep. An estimated 25% of Americans develop insomnia annually. Approximately 75% of them eventually recover. The number of people suffering from this condition is growing so rapidly that it is now deemed ‘an epidemic.’

One staggering statistic says that 30% of drug overdoses involve medications prescribed for insomnia. Many of these drugs are incredibly potent, with an array of side effects. Perhaps it isn’t surprising to see more people turn to CBD for insomnia. However, is this movement based on science, or fiction?

What Is CBD & How Does It Affect Us?

CBD is one of the most abundant cannabinoids in hemp and cannabis. It does not provide a ‘high’ like THC. While it is non-intoxicating, only one CBD product is federally legal. The FDA decided to approve the Big Pharma construct Epidiolex while doing nothing for the industry as a whole. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp.

It did not legalize CBD. As a result, individual states have implemented rules regarding the compound. With a few notable exceptions, most American states have elected to legalize the cannabinoid. A few have also attempted to regulate the industry.

Although CBD and THC have similar structures, they operate differently. When you consume either cannabinoid, they become absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the Endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system contains CB1 and CB2 receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes.

Anandamide and 2-AG are the two key endocannabinoids identified so far. Our body sends them as needed to keep it in a state of balance. The CB1 and CB2 receptors are located throughout the body. You find CB1 receptors mainly in the central nervous system. The CB2 receptors are primarily in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor.

THC binds to either receptor. Research is ongoing, but it seems as if CBD doesn’t link to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same fashion. It appears that the cannabinoid acts on these receptors indirectly. Could we use CBD for sleep?

How Does CBD Oil Make You Sleepy?

There is some debate as to how CBD makes you ‘feel.’ According to some anecdotal reports, the cannabinoid boosts your energy level. If that were true, CBD for insomnia would not be a great idea! However, a growing number of users claim that the cannabinoid helps them relax, and drift off to sleep.

Incredibly, it potentially boosts energy AND helps you sleep! How is this possible? According to a study by Zuardi A.W., published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry in September 2008, it depends on the dose. He found that low doses of the cannabinoid help you feel alert and energized. In contrast, a higher dosage is ideal for relaxing and encourages drowsiness. Suddenly, CBD for better sleep sounds like a viable option.

As for how CBD oil could make you sleepy, it is down to the ECS’ cannabinoid receptors. The CB1 receptor is involved in the release of neurochemicals. They include serotonin and melatonin. The latter is a well-known sleep aid and is often the active ingredient in sleeping pills. The body releases melatonin based on when it expects to get sleepy.

This is one of the reasons why establishing a sleep routine is so important. If you go to bed at 10:30 pm regularly, your body will soon adapt and start releasing melatonin slightly earlier. 

It is also possible that CBD works for sleep via its effects on the 5-HT1a serotonin receptors. During this process, the cannabinoid blocks the receptors from other agonists binding to them. When it binds to the serotonin receptors, CBD could block the molecules that cause anxiety and depression. As a consequence, you may feel tired.

Does CBD Have an Indirect Effect on Sleep?

Perhaps CBD interacts with the aforementioned receptors in the brain that impact our wake and sleep pattern. Another reason why CBD could help with insomnia relates to pain and anxiety. These are two of the main challenges faced by insomniacs everywhere. There is often a mental reason why we can’t sleep. Perhaps we are worried about what’s next in life, and these concerns stop us from relaxing.

Of course, one can’t neglect physical reasons for insomnia. It is difficult to fall asleep when pain envelops your body. Proponents of CBD claim it helps reduce anxiety and pain. Indeed, the ability to relax at the end of a hard day will work wonders in helping us wind down.

Remember, CBD appears to interact with receptors that regulate functions such as memory, pain perception, and mood. If the theory is correct, CBD helps sleep by calming the body and mind. Even if CBD doesn’t directly make you feel sleepy, it can get you in the ‘mood.’

What Does the Science Say?

Although CBD is associated with helping insomnia, the evidence is thin on the ground. Shannon et al. performed one of the most relevant studies to date. Their research into CBD’s effects on anxiety and sleep appeared in The Permanente Journal in 2019. The team analyzed the impact of cannabidiol on 72 anxious adults that had problems sleeping.

Anxiety scores decreased in 79% of patients within a month and remained at a low rate throughout the study. Sleep scores improved in 67% of patients in the first month but fluctuated after that. All but three users tolerated the cannabinoid. It is a reasonably positive finding, but we need more controlled clinical studies.

Murillo-Rodriguez et al. published a fascinating study in FEBS Letters back in August 2006. The researchers analyzed the impact of CBD on the sleep patterns of rats. The rats became sleepy when they received the compound at night. However, they were more energized when they took it during the day.

It is a confusing and contradictory finding. One theory is because of how CBD induces melatonin. Perhaps cannabidiol doesn’t immediately trigger the release of the hormone. Instead, it switches off the part of our nervous system that informs the brain not to release melatonin. In this instance, there is only an effect when the brain is about to release it anyway.

Theoretically, CBD boosts energy during the day because it helps you become more aware of your surroundings. At night, it has a positive impact on melatonin release. That, or it helps alleviate the pain or anxiety that keeps someone awake.

Perhaps It Isn’t CBD Alone That Aids Sleep

There is a school of thought that suggests THC is a better sleep aid than CBD. A study by Schierenbeck et al., published in Sleep Medicine Reviews in October 2008, looked at the impact of recreational drugs on sleep. It found that smoked marijuana decreased REM sleep duration. However, large doses of the herb appear to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Interestingly, marijuana consumption also increased the length of Stage 4 sleep, the most intense cycle.

Several other studies reached the same conclusion. For the most part, weed could result in an average of 30 minutes less time in falling asleep. Some experts believe that if CBD helps you sleep, it is due to its THC content. However, the intoxication caused by THC could also cause your mind to race and prevent sleep. A combination of 10mg THC and 20mg CBD could help, according to Dr. Elaine Burns. Make sure you live in a state where cannabis is legal before trying it!

It is potentially worth trying a full-spectrum CBD oils for sleep. Such products contain cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. There is a suggestion that certain terpenes, such as linalool, result in relaxation and tiredness.

A study by Peana et al., published in Life Sciences in April 2006, looked at how linalool impacts adenosine. It is a sedating hormone that helps us fall asleep. The researchers found that linalool increases our body’s production of adenosine. Other terpenes with possible sedative effects include terpineol, myrcene, and limonene.

Final Thoughts on Whether CBD Oils Helps You Sleep or Not

It is always tricky to discuss the merits of a cannabinoid on any medical condition. First and foremost, the FDA has not approved any of them for medicinal purposes. The agency has made exceptions for Big Pharma products such as Epidiolex and Marinol. Therefore, sellers of THC and CBD can’t legally make therapeutic claims.

The prohibited status of marijuana makes it extremely difficult to conduct high-quality studies. We are often left reliant on research from Israel and certain European countries. Research on whether CBD is a viable option for insomniacs is positive but limited. There is a chance that it helps with the release of melatonin. Alternatively, it may work to reduce the feelings of anxiety, depression, and pain that keep people awake.

What we do know is that all around the world, people are getting less sleep than before. No question increased expectations, and stress causes anxiety and burnout. It isn’t easy to unwind at the end of yet another long, hard day. Proponents of CBD say that the cannabinoid helps them relax. The result is a positive impact on sleep.