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CBD Oil for Sleep: Is it Effective? Is it Safe? Is it Legal?

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Are you considering using CBD oil for sleep? Do you have questions about safety, effectiveness, and legality?

There’s been a lot of buzz about CBD and cannabis thanks to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill1 that legalized hemp-based CBD with less than 0.3 percent THC at the federal level.

According to a 2019 Gallup poll2, 14 percent of Americans say they use CBD-based products, with 11 percent of them citing usage for sleep (40 percent for pain and 20 percent for anxiety).

As a nurse and health coach, I’ve been very intrigued by the growing research on this plant-based substance and recently decided to try it out myself. The results were very noticeable, and I was surprised by how quickly it took effect. Keep reading to get the full scoop on how to use CBD oil for sleep.

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol (or CBD for short) is one of 80 known cannabinoids that is derived from the cannabis sativa plant. Unlike THC, this cannabinoid doesn’t produce the same psychoactive “high” that is acquainted with marijuana plants. In the United States, CBD as “hemp oil” is legal as long as it is derived from hemp and contains less than 0.3 percent THC.1

Cannabidiol is available as a crystalline isolate, meaning it has been purified to contain only CBD, or as a full-spectrum oil containing a variety of compounds including cannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils.

It was previously thought that the isolate form was the best choice, but now researchers are investigating something called the “entourage effect3”, where it is believed that properties found within the whole plant work synergistically to create a compounding effect.

Walking into your local gas station or pet store, you’ll likely notice the wide range of hemp oil products available as pure oils, tinctures, gummies, vapors, and more. Quality and concentration can vary from product to product, so be sure to do your research before buying and check the label for the recommended dosage.

Looking to learn more? Check out our top-rated CBD oil guide here.

What Do People Use CBD For?

CBD for Pain

Chronic pain can be debilitating, impacting the quality of life, the ability to work, social interactions, and sleep. Many over-the-counter and prescription pain medications have a long list of potential side effects and run the risk of developing tolerance and dependency.

Certain types of pain including cancer-associated pain, neuropathic pain, and central pain states (associated with multiple sclerosis) are often difficult to treat with traditional opiates, anticonvulsant drugs, and antidepressants. Medical marijuana is available in some states with a prescription and is commonly used for treating chronic pain, back pain, and several other conditions.

Certain research4 has supported the use of cannabis for treating pain from a variety of conditions, and one study5 of 177 cancer patients found that patients who used a combination of CBD/THC had a 30 percent greater reduction in pain compared to placebo, whereas those who used THC alone saw no effect.

Learn More: How to Cope With Pain and Sleep

CBD for Anxiety

Preclinical evidence6 has found that cannabidiol may be a safe and effective way to manage anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more. 

A study7 conducted at a psychiatric clinic looking at the use of CBD for anxiety and sleep found a reduction in anxiety scores in 79.2 percent of patients and an improvement in sleep scores in 66.7 percent of patients within the first month of treatment.

Want to know more? Read our full guide for sleeping through anxiety.

CBD for Mental Health

A systematic review8 looking at a total of 1,629 patients with conditions including Alzheimer’s disorder/dementia, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa, ADHD, Tourette’s disorder, substance use disorder, and others found that treatment with cannabis was associated with improvements in several symptoms of mental disorders, but not complete remission.

Some animal studies9 have found that CBD may interact with serotonin receptors in the brain with similar effects to antidepressants. More research is needed in humans, but preliminary evidence is promising. Sleep disorders are much more common in individuals with mental health conditions, so it is possible that effectively treating one could improve the other.

How Does CBD Work to Make You Drowsy?

In 1988, scientists discovered the existence of a biochemical communication system in the body known as the endocannabinoid system10. This complex network of cannabinoid receptors is found throughout the body and in the central nervous system, where sleep is primarily regulated.

We have also learned that the body can manufacture endogenous cannabinoids that act as chemical messengers, but using cannabis-based products has the same effect. Research11 has found that people may experience an endocannabinoid deficiency that results in many different symptoms, including difficulty with sleep.

Scientists are still researching exactly how cannabinoids improve sleep, but initial findings suggest that it has to do with how endocannabinoids interact with proteins, receptors, and chemicals in the brain. This signaling is thought to influence the activity of various hormones, neurotransmitters, and other cells that affect things like the sleep-wake cycle, emotional regulation, and pain.

Another possible contributor is a terpene called myrcene, which is found in the cannabis plant12. Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in plants and fruits and are the basis of aromatherapy. Myrcene has been found to have sedative effects and is also found in high levels in the sleep-inducing herb, hops (the same flower found in beer).12

Some medical professionals believe that CBD improves rest by reducing anxiety and pain, allowing individuals to relax and, in turn, fall asleep more easily.

Explore our picks for the Best CBD Oil for Sleep.

Can CBD Impact Sleep Quality?

The good news is that cannabidiol may improve the quality of rest by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, increasing deep, restful sleep, and minimizing certain factors that interrupt sleep. 

Studies have found that cannabidiol may be beneficial for certain sleep disorders that impact REM cycles. Patients with Parkinson’s disease13 showed an improvement in symptoms related to REM sleep behavior disorder after being treated with CBD.  

One study14 found an improvement in anxiety and sleep disturbances related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a ten-year-old girl.

When to Take CBD Oil for Sleep

There is no definitive research on the ideal time to take CBD oil for sleep. However, you’ll want to give the CBD time to work its way into your system. With this in mind, consider taking your CBD oil about an hour before your planned bedtime and see how that timeline works for you.

You should also speak with your healthcare provider before taking any CBD oil. They can provide more guidance on dosage and whether it’s safe for you to use based on your health history.

Can CBD Treat Insomnia?

The impact of cannabidiol on sleep may be dose-dependent. Studies15 have found that lower doses have a stimulating effect, increasing wakefulness, whereas higher doses have a sedative effect.

One study16 involving patients with insomnia found that a moderate dose of 160 mg/day increased the total amount of sleep time and decreased the number of awakenings during the night. Another retrospective study17 looking at two cannabis clinics found that patients with and without sleep as their primary concern noticed a significant decrease in the amount of time it took to fall asleep.Short-term use of CBD may improve insomnia by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and increasing NREM, slow-wave sleep. However, it is important to note that chronic use may lead to habituation and dependency, with sleep disruption being a primary withdrawal symptom.

Will CBD Stop Snoring?

Research18 has found that endocannabinoids may protect the brain from symptoms related to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes abnormal patterns of breathing while asleep.

Initial research19 in animal models found that the cannabinoid system may help suppress the serotonin-mediated symptoms of OSA and reduce the number of apneas during the night. Two additional studies20 in humans also showed a reduction in apneic episodes among adults with OSA.

CBD Safety & Regulation

Although CBD use is growing in popularity, there is still very little known about its safety, effectiveness, or optimal dosage. Until recently, this plant-based substance was classified in a way that made research difficult due to a lack of federal funding. Products are not regulated by the FDA, so despite labels and claims, it is difficult to know exactly what is in each bottle.

Issues with Regulation

A 2017 study21 of 84 online CBD products revealed that more than one-fourth of the products contained less cannabidiol than what is listed on the label and THC was found in 18 products.

Potential Danger to Employment

One of the most common side effects is drowsiness, which could impact job performance, safety, and impair driving to and from your place of work. Depending on the amount of THC in the product you choose, it is possible to fail drug testing that your employer may require.

Medical Side Effects of CBD

CBD may interact with other medications including blood thinners, antidepressants, and cholesterol-lowering statins. Other possible side effects include diarrhea, dry mouth, drowsiness, fatigue, and reduced appetite.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Use

When it comes to sleep, CBD appears to work better for short-term use and in higher doses. Long-term use could lead to dependency and a diminished effect over time. The best results are usually seen in the first month of use and start to fade in subsequent months.

CBD vs. Other Sleep Aids

Compared to other sleep aids, cannabidiol may be safer and more effective than prescription or over-the-counter options. If your sleeping difficulties are due to anxiety or pain, CBD may provide relief from your symptoms so you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Like many other natural sleep aids, more research is needed to know exactly which types of sleep disorders could benefit the most.


CBD and THC are cannabinoids that both come from the cannabis plant. THC mainly acts on CB1 receptors22 (a part of the endocannabinoid system) which are most abundant in the brain and impact things like sensory perception, emotion, and cognition. 

According to research, lower doses of THC are linked to reduced sleep onset latency (the time it takes to fall asleep after the lights turn off), more deep sleep, and longer sleep duration. In the case of CBD, lower doses were linked to a more stimulating effect, whereas higher doses were linked to a more sedating effect.22

Get More Info: Cannabis and Sleep

Ask Your Doctor About CBD

Can CBD work for my sleep disorder?

If you are considering using a CBD-based product for your sleep disorder, speak with your physician about whether there is any research about its effectiveness in treating your condition.

How much CBD should I use for sleep?

Research on the most effective dosage for sleep has varied, but most studies have agreed that higher doses seem to work better.22 Unfortunately, there are still no accepted guidelines on the most optimal dosage for sleep, and concentrations can vary widely between products. Many authorities say dosing should be based on body weight, so speak to your doctor about what dosage may be best for you.

Can it interfere with my prescriptions?

Highly concentrated CBD oils may impact certain liver enzymes responsible for the metabolism of medications and could cause interactions with pharmaceutical drugs, either by increasing or decreasing their effectiveness. It is important to speak with your physician if you are currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Is there a better alternative?

Because research is still limited, there may be other solutions that have been well-studied for the treatment of sleep-related difficulties that work better for you. Your doctor may recommend things like cognitive behavioral therapy, improving sleep hygiene, or investigating the underlying cause of your troubles with sleep.

Natural Alternatives to CBD

After doing your research and speaking with your doctor, you may decide to pass on CBD. If it’s not right for you, there are some other natural alternatives for sleep that you can try. Keep in mind that the effectiveness of any natural or pharmaceutical treatment will depend on the reason you are struggling with poor sleep, to begin with.


Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the brain in response to sunlight and darkness and helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. Research23 has found that supplementing with melatonin may help to improve sleep, especially for shift workers or those suffering from jet lag.

Explore our top picks for the Best Melatonin Supplements for Sleep.

Herbal Medicine

Many herbs have been researched for their safety and effectiveness as natural sleep remedies. Some of the most popular and widely used herbs known for their sedative effects include valerian, chamomile, passionflower, St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo Biloba, lemon balm, and kava.


Homeopathic remedies use a process of sequential dilution and succussion (shaking) and work on the principle of “like treats like.” This treatment involves taking a substance that causes symptoms of disease in a healthy individual and using it to treat similar symptoms in sick individuals. Homeopathic remedies come in different ratios of dilution such as 200x or 400x and can be found as single remedies or blends that target certain symptoms.


The use of essential oils has been increasing in popularity, especially for sleep. Many people use essential oils like lavender, chamomile, blue tansy, and cedarwood to help them fall asleep. Essential oils can be used by inhaling directly from the bottle, placing a few drops on a pillow, or using an aromatherapy diffuser.


This natural mineral may help to boost certain levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that influence sleep. Magnesium is well-known for its calming properties and is lacking in the diet of most Americans. Magnesium can be taken as an oral supplement or be used topically in a lotion or cream.

Explore the Best Magnesium Supplements for Sleep


Getting moderate exercise on a daily basis may help to improve sleep. Vigorous activities tend to have a stimulating effect and are best done in the morning hours so they don’t interfere with falling asleep at night. Yoga and light stretching are calming and can be performed in the evening hours.

Sleep Hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene is an often overlooked remedy that can be extremely helpful for many people. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day may help to establish regular patterns and regulate the circadian rhythm. Performing a calming bedtime routine is also a great way to signal the body and brain that it is time for rest.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of treatment that involves working with a therapist to focus on changing behaviors that may be negatively impacting sleep. Therapists can also help to uncover any psychological factors and suggest certain techniques that may be helpful.

The Bottom Line

If you are one of the millions of Americans struggling to sleep well, you may be desperate for a solution that works. While CBD appears to be a safe and effective remedy that could help some people get the rest they need, there is still a lot we don’t know about its safety and long-term use.

Before using any natural remedy, be sure to speak with your physician about your particular situation and any current medications you may be taking. Like many other natural sleep remedies, CBD appears to be the most effective for short-term use. 

The jury is still out on what the best form and dosage is for sleep, so for now, follow the recommended guidelines on the bottle you are taking and be sure to confirm that the type you are using is legal in your area. If you do decide to give CBD a try, be sure to take it roughly 60 minutes before bed so it has time to take effect. 

Raina Cordell

Raina Cordell

RN, RHN, Certified Health Coach

About Author

Raina Cordell is a Registered Nurse, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, and Certified Health Coach, but her true passion in life is helping others live well through her website, Her holistic approach focuses on the whole person, honing the physical body and spiritual and emotional well-being.

Combination Sleeper


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