Though, prescription sleep aids do have legitimate uses they carry their own risks, exercising caution when using them is a must. Don’t self-medicate and don’t use them for an extended period.
CBD for Sleep: Can It Give You a Good Night’s Rest?
I’ve been struggling with insomnia for most of my life. I used to be the kid giving my mom trouble at night. Walking around on a cranky and plumb tuckered semi-fog became my norm in college.
I’ve had episodes where bad sleep reached to the point where I could no longer function during the day.
Sleeping pills were quick fixes with too many untoward effects that I couldn’t bear. Being at my lowest point, I knew there had to be a better relief option out there for me.
After lots of research and I mean lots, I discovered CBD and my nights changed forever. A few days on CBD and I wasn’t only falling asleep faster and sleeping longer but waking up feeling refreshed. It didn’t leave me in a foggy morning haze as most sleeping pills did.
If you’re considering taking CBD to get more shut-eye, you’re in the right place. In this article we’ll be exploring the nuts and bolts of your precious slumber and the science behind CBD to promote restorative sleep.
Table of Contents
First thing first let’s explore…
Why Is Sleep Vital for Health?
Sleep is a complex homeostatic function and an indicator of health and well-being. We all know that sleep is good for you, but you might be surprised by the consequences of sleep deprivation.
Sleep loss can be detrimental to all aspects of your daily life. After a horrible sleepless night you’re stressed and unhappy, struggling with focus, memory, planning and reasoning. But lack of sleep not only affects your performance and worsens your mood.
It has been linked to severe conditions—such as increased risk for cancer and neurodegenerative disease. Short sleep has been linked to elevated blood pressure and increased blood sugar levels. Studies in mice have also found that interrupted sleep leads to worsening atherosclerosis.
While the whole picture of why we sleep is not yet clear, important work happens while we’re resting with closed eyes. Our physical and psychological health are intimately linked to sleep.
FUNCTIONS OF SLEEP
IMMUNE SYSTEM BOOSTER
BRAIN WASTE REMOVAL
The most fundamental function of sleep seems to be for brain health. It’s essential for cognitive functions such as memories consolidation and learning the skills that helps you thrive in life. Sleep is one of the most sophisticated, powerful and cheap performance enhancers. It’s also your weapon to rejuvenate from head to toe, repair tissue, grow muscle, and synthesize hormones.
Sleep contributes to a pleasant emotional state, a healthy immune system, a healthy heart and a healthy weight. Ever felt ravenous for sweets after a bad night’s sleep? That’s because sleep affects your appetite. It regulates the hormones ghrelin and leptin—involved in your feelings of hunger and fullness.
To keep appetite in check, eighth hours of restorative sleep you should get.
During sleep, harmful waste proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases are flushed out of the brain. That’s why experts think that lack of sleep may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The damage go even further altering your brain’s structure. Researchers at Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have discovered that just one night of sleep deprivation not only promotes neurodegenerative processes but also loss of brain tissue.
Loss of tissue can affect brain’s regions where language, balance and the ability to make decisions dwell.
How Sleep Works
Interactions between two processes in your body constitute the mechanism of sleep: the sleep-wake cycle and the sleep drive. They work together to regulate when you’re awake and when you sleep.
THE SLEEP-WAKE CYCLE
Many aspects of your body work on a cyclical daily pattern known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is like a powerful internal clock that affects your behavior and body functions.
The clock works and responds in sync to the natural patterns of the planet and produces daily rhythms on several systems within your body. The most basic one is the sleep-wake cycle, where exposure to light and darkness are the timekeepers.
The sleep-wake cycle regulates the nocturnal release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for synchronizing your slumber cycles.
Melatonin production is at its peak in a dark environment and it goes off when your eyes’ retina detects light, making your brain more alert as the morning sun arrives.
Consistency with this dark and light cycle is key to help your internal clock stay in a healthy sleep-wake schedule.
THE SLEEP DRIVE
We’re all familiar with certain strong biological drives: hunger, thirst, sex, but did you know you also have a sleep drive? Well, this homeostatic mechanism is like your appetite for sleep, when you wake up the sleep drive decreases because you just spent the night sleeping.
It gradually builds up with extended wakefulness during the day and rapidly diminishes after you fall asleep.
The longer you stay awake the stronger your sleep drive gets, meaning that a little of sleep deprivation could help you fall asleep faster.
What’s Screwing Your Slumber?
Having a bad night sleep now and then is normal. But if bouts of poor sleep are persistent and are regularly impacting your ability to take on your day-to-day life, you might be suffering of a sleep disorder.
Certain sleep disorders are attributed to alterations of the circadian timekeeping system. For a healthy sleep-wake cycle, your internal clock and sleep-drive should be in tune with a “sundial”—a solar clock that tells the time by following the position of the sun.
Exposure to light during the day stimulates feelings of wakefulness and alertness. Your eyes process light and tell the brain to stay awake. Exposure to light before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep and return to sleep when awakened.
For sleep darkness matters! If you’re reading this article just before bedtime, your sleep is in danger.
We discussed before how melatonin production starts when it gets dark, but modern life lights, especially blue light from your beloved electronics may trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Scientific research shows how blue light prior hitting the sack can alter your sleep-wake needs.
But modern devices aren’t the solely contributors to poor sleep. Other factors can also disrupt your sleep-wake cycle including:
In her new book The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, sleep expert Shelby Harris explains that gender also affects Zzz’s. Despite having a slight advantage for deep sleep, women are at more risk of sleep disorders than men, due to lifespan hormonal changes. Yikes!
Age is also an important factor that affects sleep. As you age, your sleep needs and architecture changes continuously and considerably.
Sleep Disorders: An Overview
Sleep disorders can affect both the quality and quantity of your shut-eye. The most common disorders are:
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “an insomnia disorder occurs when you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep for at least three times a week, and goes on for at least three months.”
As reported by the Mayo clinic, insomnia symptoms may include:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Waking up several times during the night
- Waking up too early
- Waking up tired after a night’s sleep
- Daytime drowsiness or sleepiness
- Inability to focus or remembering
- Proneness to mistakes and accidents
- Stress about not getting enough sleep
Another common symptoms of insomnia are anxiety and depression. But we have sort of a chicken and egg situation here because insomnia is also a symptom of these mental disorders. There’s a strong link between sleep and the mood regulation systems in the brain.
Recent studies found that the thinking part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, reduced its activity after a single night of bad sleep. While the amygdala—the area of the brain that regulates fear and aggression—showed a strong reactivity. The disruption of these two brain areas following a sleepless night, increased levels of anxiety in patients up to 30%.
Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses or complete cessation of breathing during sleep. This can occur multiple times throughout the night and lead to fast and constant awakenings that are usually imperceptible. Despite getting eight or more hours of sleep at night, sleep apnea patients often find themselves with feelings of:
- Restless sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
The hallmark symptom of sleep apnea is snoring, sometimes loud and with snorting, choking, and gasping sounds. This disorder is linked to increased risk of stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. It also leads to cognitive impairments. Sleep apnea affects over 20 million adults in the U.S. alone. Most cases are undiagnosed or untreated.
CIRCADIAM RHYTHM SLEEP DISORDERS (CRSD)
Essentially, people with CRSD can sleep well on their own natural schedule but they need to follow a schedule that doesn’t fit their body’s needs.
Night shift workers often have their natural circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle disrupted. They probably have trouble falling asleep when they go to bed and also have trouble staying awake at work.
Circadian rhythms and sleep-drives can also be out of sync in jet lagged people flying to a different time zone.
This is a chronic neurological disorder that impacts the brain’s regulation over sleep and wakes states.
The main symptoms are:
- Excessive daytime tiredness
- Sleep attacks or sudden onset of sleep
- Insomnia and broken nighttime sleep.
RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
This condition typically causes a nearly irresistible urge to move the limbs, more commonly the legs. It gets worse at rest, especially when sitting down or lying in bed which interferes with your ability to fall asleep.
RLS affects about 10% of Americans of all ages, including children, but it’s more common in older adults and women.
When you’re asleep, your brain seems to shut down. But this assumption is incorrect. Your brain is as active during sleep as it is when you’re awake. What really happens is that the interaction between your brain cells changes a bit and your consciousness disappears.
How active your brain and body are when you’re sleeping depends on two basic shut-eye phases: REM and non-REM sleep, the latter includes three stages. Each phase and stage is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity. During a typical sleep night, you cycle several times through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep.
NON-REM SLEEP STAGE 1
This stage is the transition from wakefulness to sleep. This period last usually a few minutes of relatively light sleep, your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns. Your heartbeat and breathing lower, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches.
NON-REM SLEEP STAGE 2
This is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep. You spend most of your repeated sleep cycles at this stage about 45% of total sleep time. Your consciousness completely fades, and muscles relax even further.
Body temperature drops, and eye movements stop. Brain wave activity slows but memory consolidation and information processes start occurring.
NON-REM SLEEP STAGE 3
Stage 3 is the period of deep sleep that makes you wake up with a clear and focused mind. You spend about 20% of your sleep time in this stage. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels. Your muscles are completely relaxed, and it shouldn’t be easy to wake you up.
You may start dreaming. Brain waves are the slowest with further memory consolidation and information processes occurring. Though memory consolidation also require REM sleep.
This is the most active part of the cycle. REM sleep is characterized for rapid eye movement (REM) from side to side beneath closed eyelids. It first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and last around 10 minutes. As the night goes on, subsequent REM stage gets progressively longer.
During REM sleep your brain cleans itself of toxins, and body temperature falls to its lowest point. Dreams become vivid and your muscles are temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. Experts believe that your brain might be more active during this sleep stage than when you’re fully awake.
Alterations and dysfunction of both the REM and non-REM sleep stages are associated with sleep disorders.
How Much Sleep Do You Actually Need
Even though the National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults should sleep 7-9 hours a night—truth is, there’s no “magic number” of sleep hours that works for everyone. The number can vary even in people of the same age.
In fact, a recent study with groups of people sleeping 5, 6, 7 and 8 hours found that there was no association between sleep patterns and cognitive function or brain structure.
To get the sleep you need, you must look at different factors, like your age, genetic makeup, lifestyle and overall health. Because of this, it’s on you to determine whether you feel rested after 6 hours of Zzz’s or you need more.
It’s not only important to focus on how many hours you spend sleeping but also on how well you sleep. Poor sleep quality can leave you feeling exhausted the next day and negatively impact your health. Increased risk of social stress, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes have been associated with poor sleep quality.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life, we’re starting to see good sleep as a hot commodity. As the demands in our lives keep rising, it’s easy to forego an hour or two of our precious slumber.
Catching up on missed sleep during weekends may sound like a good idea, but depending on how sleep-deprived you are, the extra weekend shut-eye might not be sufficient.
If you’ve experienced bouts of sleep loss you’re far from alone, 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages have the same problem. Many are tempted to try medication during nights when sleep is elusive.
In fact, nearly 9 million are using sleeping pills and most of them report only adding a few minutes of snooze to their night. Worse yet, they wake up feeling drowsy, confused, or forgetful the next morning.
Most doctors I’ve spoken with didn’t have a problem in prescribing benzodiazepines like Xanax or Z-drugs like Ambien. These drugs helped me for a while, but I had to bear with adverse side effects, sometimes worse than the insomnia itself.
Let’s take a look at these medications and their side effects.
Benzos mimic the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. GABA is a neurochemical that dampens down the central nervous system and brings it back to a state of calm. This effect make benzos perfect for catching some Zzz’s.
The adverse effects of benzodiazepines are well documented. The main ones are:
- Grogginess and light headiness that can persist the next day
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Loss of libido
- Muscle weakness
Z-drugs are sedative-hypnotics drugs that are supposed to be safer and more effective for insomnia that benzodiazepines. This hypnotic sleep medications don’t mimic GABA but activate the GABA receptors, which make them faster-acting. Unfortunately Z-drugs also come with side effects and share some of the long-term benzodiazepines usage concerns.
The main side effects of Z-drugs include:
- Bitter taste in your mouth
- Agitation more frequent in seniors
- Appetite changes
- Decreased muscle tone
- Difficulty speaking
Long-term effects of benzos and Z-drugs are nothing you want to mess around with. Tolerance happens pretty easily, and they stop working, so you need more to fall asleep. This leads to dependency. If you go cold turkey, you may go through withdrawal symptoms, like changes in mood, seizures, suicidal thoughts and rebound insomnia.
CBD, on the flip side, has a better safety profile than these medications and is a natural alternative treatment for some sleep disorders. For me it has truly been a game changer. Life is so much better when you get your full quota of sleep.
What Is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is one of the hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis. Cannabinoids are a class of compounds able to interact with a network of receptors that exists in your brain, nervous system, peripheral nervous tissue and almost everywhere in your body.
This network was termed the endocannabinoid system ECS in honor of the plant that led to its discovery. The main functions of the ECS is to control all the homeostatic functions of your body and to regulate disease. CBD helps the system achieve these vital functions.
What makes CBD so remarkable is that it works in tandem with your body without leaving you with the buzz effect associated with cannabis.
This is because CBD is a non-intoxicating molecule. In fact, the cannabinoid that makes you high is THC.
Cannabis has gotten many names along history, two of the most well-known are hemp and marijuana. It turns out that these plant cousins are varieties of cannabis with some fundamental differences. The main one is their THC content. In the eyes of America law, hemp is any cannabis plant with less than 0.03% THC, while marijuana can go up to 30%.
Hemp and hemp-derived CBD are federally legal since December 2018 and that’s why this substance is sweeping America. The demand for CBD products has skyrocketed to dizzying heights and this all-natural substance is used for all sorts of ailments, including sleep disorders.
How CBD Helps You Get a Better Night’s Rest
CBD works alongside with the endocannabinoid system to achieve a state of internal equilibrium known as homeostasis.
Homeostasis rules your sleep drive process, so it’s not crazy to think that the use of CBD can help with Zzz’s imbalances caused by a disrupted sleep-wake cycle.
This cannabinoid also regulates cortisol, the stress hormone that has a significant impact on homeostasis and non-REM sleep cycles.
CBD has paradoxical effects, depending on the situation and the dosage, it may improve sleep and reduce insomnia or act as a wake–inducing agent.
At low doses, the compound appears to encourage wakefulness, which may offer help for those who suffer from conditions with extreme drowsiness.
On the other hand, CBD holds promise for sleepless individuals with medical conditions such as PTSD and Parkinson’s disease. Evidence suggest that the compound addresses external factors that interrupt the natural process of sleep on these patients, like anxiety, pain and inflammation.
Research also suggests CBD can improve REM sleep and increase total sleep time.
Let’s take a look of the science behind CBD for sleep disorders.
CBD MAY IMPROVE SLEEP BY REDUCING ANXIETY
Anxiety and sleep disorders are lifelong bedfellows. I learned this early in life. As an ADHD sufferer my mind don’t stop racing. So falling asleep has always been a problem.
Racing thoughts feed anxiety pushing sleep even further away. If you know the struggle, you know it’s real.
Anxiety causes insomnia, and insomnia, in turn, exacerbates an underlying vulnerability to anxiety.
It’s a vicious cycle.
CBD can help break the cycle by addressing certain external factors that interrupt the natural process of sleep. Cannabidiol is widely known as a natural treatment for anxiety. It reduces stress and anxious thoughts allowing your body and mind to relax, which leads to improved sleep parameters. Me and many more around the world can attest for this.
But you’re here for the science, right? Here’s the evidence.
In a human case study, a 10 years old girl with PTSD due to sexual assault, started to show improvement in the quality and quantity of her sleep along with the reduction of her anxiety symptoms, after taking 25 mg of CBD oil daily.
No side effects were noticed during the five months of treatment.
Another clinical report published in the peer-reviewed Permanent journal showed that almost 80% of patients who took 25mg of CBD daily reported lower levels of anxiety and 66% experienced an improvement in sleep in the first month.
56% said that they slept better after the second month. No evidence of a safety issue was observed, and CBD was better tolerated than routine psychiatric medications.
CBD IMPROVES REM SLEEP BEHAVIOR DISORDER
REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is characterized by nightmares and the patient acting out them. During REM sleep your brain shuts down motor control to your muscles. This paralysis protects you from physically acting on your dreams. In RBD patients the paralysis disappears, impairing their ability to sleep and dream safely.
RBD is a predictor of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
In a 2014 study four patients were treated with CBD for six weeks. A reduction in the frequency of RBD events without side effects were observed, which indicates that CBD may be able to control RBD symptoms.
CBD MAY IMPROVE SLEEP BY DECREASING CHRONIC PAIN
A 2018 review supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Republic Serbia noted that cannabinoids have been shown to be effective as a pain treatment in different animal models.
But CBD alone is not equally effective against all types of pain in humans. However there’s a fair amount of evidence suggesting that CBD can improve sleep by reducing chronic pain.
CBD DOES NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR SLEEP CYCLE
Anxiolytic and antidepressant drugs such as benzodiazepines and SSRIs may interfere with sleep architecture and decrease restorative sleep, in addition to other adverse side effects.
In a Brazilian study researchers found that the acute administration of an anxiolytic dose of CBD didn’t interfere with the sleep cycle of healthy volunteers. They also noted that CBD has a safety profile, it’s well-tolerated and doesn’t affect motor or cognitive functions.
CBD MAY ACT AS A WAKE-INDUCING DRUG
There are pieces of evidence showing that CBD acts as an effective drug in somnolence. It’s believed that cannabidiol induces the enhancement of dopamine expression in brain areas related to alertness such as the hypothalamus and the dorsal raphe nucleus.
A review published online in 2014 highlights the pharmacological evidence on the effects of CBD on sleep modulation and its properties as a wake-promoting agent.
All these findings are dose-dependent, meaning that at different dosages the compound shows a different set of effects. Taking CBD in lower doses may encourage wakefulness and decrease daytime sleepiness, while taking CBD in higher doses promotes sleep.
While promising, these studies have not yet fully proven the effectiveness or long-term safety of CBD.
How to Take CBD to Improve Sleep
In a market that has proven to be disruptive new technologies and innovations are becoming the order of the day. CBD comes in many forms. It can be smoked, vaporized, taken under the tongue as an oil or tincture, eaten in solid foods, drunk in beverages or rubbed on the skin as a topical.
This wide range of options is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming especially if you’re new to CBD. That’s why educating yourself is key to understand what’s out there and pick the product that best fits your health goals.
Finding the correct dosage for your particular needs is not an easy task, because so many different factors play a role in how the compound affects your body. Your condition and its severity, your weight, body chemistry, and even your DNA may have an effect on your CBD experience.
The basic recommendation is to start slow and go slow. This means you start off with the minimal dosage and take note of how you feel. Then you plan and increase the next dose slowly until the desired effect is reached.
Don’t forget to consult your health-care practitioner and take his recommendations seriously. If your primary care physician is not well versed in CBD, don’t be afraid to look for medical marijuana doctors online or an alternative health care provider.
What Are the Side Effects?
The World Health Organization has stated that CBD is well-tolerated, safe to consume and doesn’t pose danger of abuse. Side effects are negligible compared to those from other sleep medications and include:
- Changes in appetite and weight
Although CBD is generally considered being safe, nobody knows just yet what its effects are in the long-term. The compound has been in the spotlight due to a recent study on mice that shows CBD’s potential risk for liver damage.
It’s not recommended for pregnant and nursing women and it may interact with other medications. If you’re new to CBD, has liver complications or are already taking other drugs, seek professional assistance to determine if this substance is right for you.
The biggest risk right now is how unregulated the CBD industry is. The federal government has failed to set a standard for these products. About 70% of the items out there are mislabeled or contaminated. There are products containing too much, too little or no CBD at all. Other products has been found with illicit amounts of THC, heavy metals, pesticides and even “spice”—a street synthetic drug.
Don’t buy products from unknown companies. Do a little research and find reliable brands that sell thoroughly vetted CBD. Make sure that all products you intend to buy were tested by a third-party lab before adding them to your cart.
Other Ways to Improve Sleep
To feel bright and fresh all day long you can spend $3.25 on a venti Caffe Americano, or you can improve your sleep habits.
Healthy sleep habits can set the stage for other treatments like CBD to do its job more successfully. Proper sleep hygiene won’t cure your insomnia but can keep it from worsening and can help prevent its return in the long run.
The main goal is to synchronize your internal clock to the daily external timekeepers—sunlight and darkness. So, when you wake up and the last two hours prior bedtime are critical to adjust lightning throughout the day.
This is how to do it.
PROPER SLEEP HYGIENE
Good sleep is critical for your mental and physical health, from boosting brain function to supporting weight loss and helping your body fight off infections.
While everyone is different, you generally need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night to perform at top notch levels. Unfortunately many of us don’t get the rest we need.
CBD has emerged as a natural, non-habit-forming solution for those with sleep disorders. The science behind the benefits of CBD is still catching up with people’s demand, but it suggests that cannabidiol can tackle some of the most common roots of poor sleep—anxiety and pain. The compound even goes the extra mile and help you sleep longer, so you wake up with a refreshed mind ready to take on the day.
I still have brief episodes of bad sleep here and there but thanks to sleep hygiene and CBD I now know how a good night’s rest feels, and how dramatically it can enhance the quality of life. If this chronic insomniac could do it, surely you can too.
Make sure to check with your physician before trying CBD especially if you’re a new user or take other meds—because it may interact with certain drugs.
Commit to making sleep a non-negotiable part of your daily self-care routine for optimum well-being.
To perfect sleep.