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CBD vs. Melatonin for Sleep: Which One is Better?

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, you may be looking into sleep supplements like cannabidiol (CBD) or melatonin to help you get some shuteye. Both CBD and melatonin are widely used as sleep aids. CBD, in particular, has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. In a 2023 poll1 of 1,169 adults, 21.1 percent reported using CBD within the past year. 

Still, despite their widespread use, you may have many questions surrounding CBD and melatonin, such as whether these supplements are safe to take and how they can affect sleep. You might also be wondering if CBD is legal to purchase in your state.

Whether you’re considering using either of these sleep supplements, or you’re simply curious about their proposed benefits, here’s everything there is to know about CBD and melatonin for sleep. We’ll also cover if one supplement is ultimately better than the other to help you get much-deserved rest.

Medical disclaimer: Consult your healthcare provider before taking CBD or melatonin.

What Is CBD?

Chances are you’ve heard of CBD, but what exactly is it? CBD2 stands for cannabidiol, one of the most prevalent active ingredients in cannabis. Both medical cannabis and hemp plants contain CBD, but the products you have likely seen in the pharmacy or grocery store are hemp-derived.

CBD is used for a variety of purposes, including playing a role in anxiety, chronic pain, and in the case of this article, insomnia.2 It comes in numerous forms such as oils, extracts, capsules, patches, and even topical treatments.

Understanding the legality of CBD can be somewhat challenging. Under the federal 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act3 (also referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill), CBD that’s derived from the hemp plant and contains less than 0.3 percent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is legally permitted for sale.

Explore: Best CBD Oil for Sleep

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is arguably the most popular sleep supplement. In a nutshell, melatonin4 is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. When this hormone is produced, it helps regulate your circadian rhythm, or your 24-hour internal clock, which is responsible for signaling to your brain and body that it’s time for bed or to wake up.4

Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production, which is why you may experience jet lag or disrupted sleep due to shift work.4 Melatonin is often used to alleviate these sleep disturbances, but it could also help manage sleep disorders in general for both adults and children.

Melatonin can come in various forms and is readily available at most grocery stores, pharmacies, and online health retailers. Typically, you’ll find it sold as a pill, liquid, or chewable, such as a gummy supplement. Melatonin is also sold in patch form, though this is less common.

Explore: Best Melatonin Supplement for Sleep

How Do CBD and Melatonin Affect Sleep?

CBD and Sleep 

In recent years, researchers have studied a previously unknown system in our body known as the endocannabinoid system5. While this system is still being understood, it essentially contains a vast network of chemical signals and cellular receptors densely packed throughout our brains and bodies. This network regulates and controls important bodily functions, including sleep.5

More Info: What is the Endocannabinoid System?

So, what does the endocannabinoid system have to do with CBD? In short, the answer is a lot. Cannabinoid receptors in this system are stimulated by naturally produced molecules known as endocannabinoids, which have a similar molecular structure to cannabis plants.5 As a non-intoxicating component of cannabis, CBD can essentially help stimulate this system6.

With a “boost” to the endocannabinoid system, CBD can help decrease anxiety and improve sleep7, the latter of which can be greatly affected by anxiety itself. In a 2019 study, researchers found that out of 72 adults who participated in the experiment, anxiety scores decreased within the first month of CBD use in 57 patients (79.2 percent) and sleep scores improved within the first month of CBD use in 48 patients (66.7 percent). All except for three patients tolerated CBD.7

A 2023 systematic review8 (or a review of numerous studies, in this case 34) also found that CBD led to significant improvements in insomnia. An additional 2023 study9 of 29 participants with insomnia who used medicinal cannabis for sleep found that at the end of a two-week trial, 60 percent of patients were no longer classified as clinical insomniacs. Midnight melatonin levels were also significantly higher in the active group by 30 percent compared to the placebo group.9

Melatonin and Sleep

Melatonin can boost both sleep quality (or how well you sleep) and sleep latency (or how quickly you fall asleep). A 2017 review of sleep disorders and melatonin10 found that supplementing with melatonin has the power to synchronize circadian rhythm and improve the onset, duration, and quality of sleep.

All in all, melatonin was found to regulate sleep and was well-tolerated with no obvious short- or long-term impacts.10 Various uses of melatonin for sleep were examined, including insomnia, sleep-related breathing disorders, hypersomnolence, sleep-wake disorders, and parasomnia. It was also found to be a safe and effective alternative to prescription sleep aids11, which have the potential for dependence and addiction, plus numerous side effects like next-day drowsiness.

Still, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) cautions that there isn’t enough evidence to recommend the use of melatonin for chronic insomnia.4 Instead, they recommend turning to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) first before using melatonin.

Is CBD or Melatonin Better for Sleep?

Whether CBD or melatonin is better for sleep will ultimately depend on your sleep needs and preferences. Since CBD may help alleviate anxiety, people who struggle to sleep because of anxiety may consider CBD over melatonin. That’s because CBD has been better studied for anxiety benefits over its melatonin counterpart.

On the flip side, people who find themselves taking a long time to fall asleep or wake up frequently throughout the night could benefit from trying melatonin over CBD. Melatonin is also generally considered safe for all age groups, so if you’re looking to address sleep problems in children, melatonin might be your best bet. However, we advise consulting with your child’s pediatrician before giving them any melatonin (or other) supplements.

More: Guide to Melatonin for Kids

Melatonin may also be a better option for shift workers or people with jet lag whose circadian rhythm has been disrupted due to light exposure or changing time zones.

Can You Take CBD and Melatonin at the Same Time?

While research is limited on the potential impacts of taking CBD and melatonin together, Drugs.com12 notes that combining melatonin with high-dose CBD can result in side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to take CBD and melatonin at the same time, be sure to speak to a healthcare professional with expertise in medical cannabis.

Are CBD and Melatonin Safe for Everyone?

CBD and melatonin could have unwanted side effects and may interact with certain medications. CBD side effects13 may include dry mouth, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, and drowsiness, and it may interact with some medications14, such as anti-epileptic drugs, antidepressants, and opioid analgesics. Common melatonin side effects15 can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and daytime drowsiness, and these supplements may interact with medications for blood clots, seizures, birth control, diabetes, and suppressing the immune system, among others.

Other Tips for Better Sleep

If sleep aids aren’t right for you, or if you simply want to practice good sleep habits in addition to supplementing with CBD or melatonin, there are several steps you can take for better sleep. Sleep hygiene, or the set of behaviors, habits, and environment surrounding your sleep, can play a major role in how well you sleep. Here are 10 ways to naturally boost your sleep hygiene.

  • Limit exposure to blue light at night, such as TVs, smartphones, and laptops
  • Avoid consuming caffeine late in the day
  • Reduce the number of naps you take (or don’t take them at all)
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Avoid alcohol use close to bedtime
  • Create a cool, dark, and quiet sleep environment
  • Keep your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Avoid eating late at night
  • Practice a consistent nighttime ritual
  • Get regular exercise during the day

If sleep supplements like CBD or melatonin aren’t helping you sleep, and neither is practicing good sleep hygiene, you may want to consider seeing a healthcare professional if poor sleep is affecting your day-to-day life. Together, you can develop a plan of action for better sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I take CBD or melatonin for sleep?

Whether you should take CBD or melatonin for sleep is a personal choice and depends on your circumstances. If anxiety is keeping you awake, CBD may be your best bet, while melatonin may be more effective for disrupted sleep due to jet lag or shift work. Discuss with your healthcare provider the benefits and risks of CBD and melatonin before starting either.

Does CBD actually do anything for sleep?

CBD can help stimulate your endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating sleep.6 It can also help reduce anxiety, which may contribute to poor sleep and even insomnia.7

Are there health benefits to CBD or melatonin?

Based on research studies, both CBD and melatonin have shown sleep benefits. Better sleep is a major health benefit that can impact all corners of your life since sleep is essential to both physical and mental health.

Ashley Zlatopolsky

Ashley Zlatopolsky

Content Writer

About Author

Ashley Zlatopolsky is a Detroit-based writer and editor who specializes in sleep content. She writes about sleep health, hygiene and products for Sleep Advisor, Mattress Clarity, Real Simple, and more.

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  12. “Drug interactions between Epidiolex and melatonin”. Webpage accessed January 12, 2024.
  13. “Cannabidiol (CBD)”. Medline Plus. Last modified September 30, 2023.
  14. Balachandran PhD, Premalatha., Elsohly PhD, Mahmoud., Hill MD, Kevin P. “Cannabidiol Interactions with Medications, Illicit Substances, and Alcohol: a Comprehensive Review”. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2021.
  15. Bauer MD, Brent A. “Is melatonin a helpful sleep aid — and what should I know about melatonin side effects?”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified October 28, 2022.