If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, you may be looking into natural sleep aids like 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 popularity1 in recent years with 14 percent of American adults reported using CBD products in 2019, according to a government poll.
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 natural sleep aids, or you’re simply curious about their purported 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, or the second-most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis. Medical cannabis contains CBD, but the compound itself is actually derived from the hemp plant, which is related to but different from cannabis itself.
CBD is used for a variety of purposes, including alleviating 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 Farm Bill3, CBD that’s derived from the hemp plant and contains less than 0.3 percent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is permitted.
Explore: Best CBD Oil for Sleep
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is arguably the most popular natural and over-the-counter sleep aid. 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-psychoactive component of cannabis, CBD essentially helps 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 (NIH) 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, or 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 can help alleviate anxiety, people who struggle to sleep because of anxiety may want to turn to 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 supplements.
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 CBD can increase 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 doctor or healthcare professional.
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 natural sleep aids 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.
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?
Numerous studies have found that both CBD and melatonin have proven 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 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, Sleep.com and more.
- “Cannabidiol (CBD) – potential harms, side effects, and unknowns”. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2023.
- Grinspoon MD, Peter. “Cannabidiol (CBD): What we know and what we don’t”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021.
- Gottlieb MD, Scot. “Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on signing of the Agriculture Improvement Act and the agency’s regulation of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds”. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2018.
- “Melatonin: What you need to know”. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
- Grinspoon MD, Peter. “The endocannabinoid system: Essential and mysterious”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021.
- Capodice, Jillian., Kaplan, Steven. “The endocannabinoid system, cannabis, and cannabidiol”. Current Urology. 2021.
- Shannon MD, Scott, et al. “Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: A large case series”. The Permanente Journal. 2019.
- Ranum, Rylea, et al. “Use of cannabidiol in the management of insomnia: A systematic review”. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. 2023.
- Ried, Karin, et al. “Medicinal cannabis improves sleep in adults with insomnia”. Journal of Sleep Research. 2023.
- Xie, Zizhen, et al. “A review of sleep disorders and melatonin”. Neurological Research. 2017.
- “Sleeping pills”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified April 27, 2021.
- “Drug interactions between Epidiolex and melatonin”. Drugs.com. Webpage accessed January 12, 2024.