Cannabis and Sleep – Can It Help You Sleep Better?

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Do you have trouble falling asleep? Does it feel like you’ve tried every tip, trick, and gadget to get a restful night of sleep, and yet you still struggle to drift off?

Or maybe you’re looking for something other than warm baths, white noise machines, and chamomile tea to add some variety to your nightly bed prep routine.

If that’s the case, you might want to consider trying marijuana to help you sleep.

Marijuana, cannabis, weed, ganja; there are approximately 1,200 different words to describe a plant that’s used both to produce hemp fibers as well as create a psychotropic experience for users smoke or ingest its potent-smelling flowers.

Scientists are still figuring out exactly what marijuana does to our brains. We’re sure they’re having an excellent time during the discovery process! So far, they’ve been able to determine that the cannabinoids in cannabis engage a specific set of brain cells that have to do with motor function, memory, pleasure, pain, fear, and mood.

There are multiple cannabinoids in marijuana, but the two most high-profile ones are:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) – this is the element responsible for all of the marijuana’s purported health benefits. It does not produce a high.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – this cannabinoid is psychotropic and is what causes the high feeling that users get when they consume marijuana.

In this article, we answer the question, “does weed help insomnia?”, and discuss the effect that marijuana has on sleep cycles, and the best way to consume it depending on your situation and needs. Stay tuned; it could even help with sleep apnea!

Prohibition and Legalization

Humans have been consuming marijuana for 5,000 years as a powerful medicinal aid. Its first recorded use was by the Chinese in 2900 BC, and it spread throughout Europe and Asia as a way to treat everything from leprosy to earaches.

It made its way to North America in the 1600s, and it was a popular crop among US Presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Starting in the early 1900s, there was widespread concern over a lack of morals being exhibited by the American public. Alcohol was under attack, and prohibition was about to take hold. A cannabis prohibition soon followed suit, but at the time, it was considered more of a preventive measure than anything else.

Media tycoon, William Hearst, also had a role in outlawing marijuana. He was trying to squelch the burgeoning hemp industry, which could provide paper products in a more natural and sustainable way than the timber that was being used for newspapers. However, Hearst, a vertically integrated businessman, also controlled pulp production and had a strong and well-funded interest in making the activity of growing this plant illegal.

During this time in history, the odds were stacked against marijuana and remained that way for 60 years.

Starting in 1996, states slowly began loosening the laws on marijuana. Today, it’s legal to consume marijuana in 38 of the 50 states, although several of these states restrict cannabis consumption for medical reasons only.

Before deciding to use marijuana to help you sleep, check local laws or reference this map.

weed

Facts about Marijuana and Sleep

Helps You Fall Asleep Faster

One of marijuana’s main benefits is its ability to help people relax, unwind, and de-stress. Because of this, it’s also a natural sleep-aid.

People who have difficulty turning off their brains or letting go of a stressful day may find marijuana particularly effective for falling asleep faster.

Cannabis is also known to be an effective pain reliever, so it helps not only people with stress or PTSD, and it can also provide sleep-inducing relief for those suffering from pain or headaches.

Indica Strains are Better Sleep Aids

Of the two types of strains available, Indica and Sativa, Indica is widely considered to be a better aid for inducing drowsiness. People often point to Granddaddy Purple as a favorite to put them to sleep, while Sativa has a reputation for providing more energy.

One theory behind this difference in strains has to do with something called “terpenes.” Terpenes are the oily compounds found in plants that give them their smell. Essential oils are a commonly used terpene. The smell has an evolutionary purpose for the plant, whether it’s to ward off predators or attract pollination.

Cannabis contains over 200 different types of terpenes, and many are associated with therapeutic benefits, like pain relief, muscle relaxation, and even heartburn. What about that skunky smell that marijuana is so famous for? That’s the terpene called Myrcene, which is known to have a sedative effect as well as an anti-inflammatory one, too.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Indica strains are often higher in the terpene myrcene, which explains why this one knocks people unconscious most often.

Aged Cannabis Might be More Effective

Wine isn’t the only thing that gets better with age. Cannabis can also become a more powerful sleeping aid if it’s left alone for a while to mature. The only catch is that for this bio hack to be effective, the marijuana is going to have to dry for a couple of years in a controlled, low humidity environment.

The reason this works is that the THC degrades over time and is replaced by cannabinol, which is dramatically more sedating. However, the process takes years, so unless you’re very patient or have a connection to a grower or dispensary with this type of herb available, you’ll be stuck only with the fresh stuff.

May Cause a “Hangover” Effect

Marijuana has yet another similarity to wine. Consume too much the night before, and you’re bound to wake up with a headache and feeling dehydrated. You might also experience congestion, dry eyes, and grogginess.

Overindulging isn’t the only thing that can cause this hangover effect. Consuming lower quality cannabis or marijuana that’s been grown with pesticides can also cause these symptoms. Combatting this condition is the same as if you were going out clubbing with the intention of drinking half a bottle of tequila. Make sure you drink plenty of water, eat healthy food and do your best to make sure you’re getting plenty of regular exercise.

couple is exercising

Inhibits REM Sleep and Dreaming

Even though marijuana has been shown to increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep stages, it comes at a price. The increase in those stages equates to less time in REM (rapid eye movement). The REM stage is where dreams occur.

For people suffering from PTSD, they may be relieved to get a respite from nightmares. However, scientists caution against the long-term effects of fiddling with the brain’s balance. REM is believed to help with the formation of memories and maintaining a healthy chemical equilibrium in the brain.

If you’re a long-term cannabis user and suddenly stop consuming, you’re likely to experience a dramatic increase in REM sleep. This is referred to as a REM rebound and signifies that the body is always seeking balance.

Possibly Better Breathing

Only small studies have been done so far, but early evidence suggests that the THC in marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol) regulates serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn, can also stabilize breathing patterns.

The implications of these studies are that cannabis could be a potential treatment for sleep apnea, a nocturnal disorder that affects more than 20 million Americans. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes someone to stop breathing numerous times throughout the night. The body wakes to restart the breathing. As you can imagine, this presents a major obstacle when it comes to getting a full night of rest.

Discontinuing Long-Term Use May Worsen Sleep

Even though it’s not habit-forming, any sleep aid that you discontinue using can be expected to have a detrimental effect on sleeping habits. So, if you’ve become accustomed to partaking in marijuana to help you fall asleep, and then you suddenly stop, don’t be surprised if you find that it takes you longer to doze off.

Young Ones May Experience Sleep Problems

The use of cannabis before the age of 16 is not recommended. The brain is still undergoing development before adulthood and may affect certain aspects of its development. One of the effects noticed was diminished sleep quality in adult study participants who consumed marijuana as a teenager.

Studies also suggest that we’re more susceptible to developing an addiction in our teenage years. And although marijuana is not broadly considered addictive, it can be for someone with an addictive personality.

man don't recommend cannabis to teenagers

Different Strains

There are two different marijuana strains: Indica and Sativa. When the two are combined, a third strain hybrid is created. Each strain is known for producing different effects in the consumer, mainly due to the THC content and the amount and types of terpenes (fragrant compounds) present.

Indica

A strain that’s considered soothing and relaxing. This is the strain people seek out when they want help falling asleep.

Sativa

This strain tends to make people feel more energetic, happy, and excited.

Hybrids

Both dispensaries and manufacturers may elect to combine different strains. There are countless hybrids, though some have gained notoriety in their own right like Blue Dream and White Widow.

Technically, there’s another strain called Ruderalis, which is grown in central and eastern Europe. It’s a shorter plant with less THC content, which may be why it’s the lesser known member of the family.

How Weed Effects Sleep Stages

Every night, our body cycles multiple times through five different sleep stages. Marijuana has a different effect on each one.

First Stage

As we drift off to la-la land, we enter stage one. We don’t stay here long, maybe 7-10 minutes at most. Because this is the stage where we’re finally relaxed after a long and stressful day, cannabis can have a positive effect on this stage, allowing us to get here more quickly and move more effortlessly on to the next part of the cycle.

man holds joint

Second Stage

Stage two is still light sleep, and we can be woken up easily if there’s noise or an outside disturbance. Weed has very little effect on this stage.

Third & Fourth Stages

Stages three and four are combined and classified as deep sleep. They’re both responsible for tissue repair and recovery. Because marijuana prolongs the length of these cycles, we view this as a positive effect and may help the body speed up healing.

Fifth Stage

The final stage is REM sleep. The abbreviation stands for Rapid Eye Movement, and it’s characterized by quick motions of the eye under the lid. It’s the stage where dreaming occurs. Cannabis is known to shorten this stage, reducing the frequency of dreams. The long-term effects of this are not fully known and could potentially be problematic.

How to Use it for a Good Night’s Rest

How you choose to ingest marijuana to promote rest is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to smoke it as a joint or in a bong or pipe. Others prefer not to inhale the smoke and choose to vape or use a tincture, which is a mixture that you place under your tongue.

Dosing can be a bit tricky and may require experimentation. If you’re a beginner, avoid the temptation to try an edible. While they tend to have a longer-last effect, they take longer to kick in, and dosing can be a guessing game.

Start conservatively. The worst case scenario is that you wake up in the middle of the night and need to take another dose. We do caution against doing another dose within four hours of when you need to wake up. Otherwise, you risk excessive grogginess in the morning.

woman smoking marijuana in pipe

Frequently Asked Questions

Does frequency of use matter?

More evidence is needed to declare this definitively, but a study by the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that daily use can negatively affect sleeping patterns. However, habitual, non-daily use is shown to help battle insomnia.

How CBD and THC affect sleep?

CBD helps sleeping in two ways:

  1. It helps reduce chronic pain, making it easier for people to fall and stay asleep.
  2. It reduces daytime drowsiness and helps people stay alert during the day. In turn, this regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

THC contributes to drowsiness, which can initially be a helpful sleep aid. However, prolonged use shows that the body develops a tolerance to THC, lessening its effect and potentially even disrupting sleep later on.

Can it cure sleep apnea?

Small studies have shown a link between marijuana use and improvements in the symptoms of this condition. It does this in two ways:

  1. Stabilizes autonomic output. In plain English, this means that marijuana helps the body maintain normal biological functions while we sleep, like breathing. This effect, in turn, reduces the number of episodes of disrupted breathing.
  2. It regulates the delivery of serotonin to help keep throat muscles dilated enough for a clear air pathway.

In the study cited above, the sample size was relatively small. To say for sure that weed can cure sleep apnea, larger and more complete studies need to be performed.

Will it be safe for insomnia sufferers?

Like any sleep aid, proceed with caution. Marijuana is a much more natural solution than a prescription medication like Ambien, which has been linked to dangerous sleep-driving and obesity-inducing sleep-eating.

If you’re having difficulty sleeping due to stress, you may notice immediate benefits and relief by consuming marijuana before bed. However, before making it a daily habit, talk to your doctor and see if there’s an underlying issue that he or she can help you address.

Author: Sleep Advisor

Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

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