Can CBD Help You Sleep?
Some research suggests it might be worth a try
People have been turning to cannabis for its possible health benefits for a long, long time. Its ability to help people, for example, is mentioned in the Atharvaveda, a Hindu text that dates back to around 1500 B.C., and its use for inducing sleep is described in a 1200 A.D. Chinese medical text.
Today, people are still using cannabis to help them sleep, particularly one form of it: CBD, or cannabidiol. That’s a compound found in marijuana and hemp that doesn’t get you high, and that has recently exploded in popularity because of its potential to treat other health problems, including pain and anxiety.
In a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey, about 10 percent of Americans who reported trying CBD said they used it to help them sleep, and a majority of those people said it worked.
It’s easy to understand why people are turning to CBD to help with sleep: Almost 80 percent of Americans say they have trouble sleeping at least once a week, according to another recent nationally representative CR survey of 1,267 U.S. adults. And many existing treatments, particularly prescription and over-the-counter drugs, are often not very effective—and are risky, too.
A small but growing body of scientific research provides some support for CBD as a sleep aid. A study out this month, for example, suggests CBD might help people with short-term sleep problems.
And Joseph Maroon, M.D., a clinical professor and neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who has researched the effect of cannabis on the brain, says that CBD has properties that could help some people sleep better. Most notably, he says, it appears to ease anxiety and pain, both of which can make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Some other research hints that CBD may also affect sleep directly, by interacting with receptors in the brain that govern the body’s daily sleep/wake cycles, according to a 2017 review of sleep and cannabis in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports.
But “many questions still remain as to timing, the amount to take, and route of dosing CBD for sleep,” Maroon says. All of that could affect who CBD helps for sleep, and who it doesn’t.
And how it affects people does seem to be hit or miss. For example, Melissa Giovanni, age 32, a licensed dietitian in Nashville, Tenn., takes CBD regularly for sleep and says it often helps. But Liz Fuller, age 47, a makeup artist in Boston, says she tried two different CBD brands—spending about $135—to treat her insomnia, and neither worked.
Maroon says he doesn’t see CBD as a treatment for insomnia, but instead as an “alternative natural method to help calm anxious thoughts that often delay or interrupt natural sleep.” He points out that next to nothing is known about the safety or effectiveness of CBD in children, pregnant women, or older people when used for sleep or anxiety. Maroon urges those with insomnia to see their doctor before using any treatment.
Still, he notes that if you occasionally have difficulty sleeping, CBD is considered a safe, non-habit-forming, natural alternative.
For those looking to try CBD to see whether it helps improve sleep, here’s what you need to know.
How CBD Might Help With Sleep
One way CBD may help with sleep is by easing anxiety. In a study in the January issue of The Permanente Journal, published by the Kaiser-Permanente health insurance company, Colorado researchers looked at the health records of 72 patients who were treated with CBD for either anxiety or poor sleep.
During the three-month study, anxiety levels did decline, even in people whose main complaint was poor sleep. For those with sleep problems, the results weren’t as clear cut, though people did report some improvement in the first month.
Those benefits might be due to the placebo effect, says Scott Shannon, M.D., the study’s main author and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado-Children’s Hospital in Denver. But Shannon, who is also founder of the Wholeness Center, an integrative medicine clinic in Ft. Collins, Colo., also thinks that some people may have slept better because they “worried less about their sleep issue.”
Scientists have some biological explanations for how CBD may affect both sleep and anxiety. Recent studies have shown that cannabis compounds interact with receptors throughout the body—the so-called endocannabinoid system—including in the brain. At least one of those type of receptors is thought to affect the body’s sleep/wake cycle, offering one explanation for how CBD could affect sleep directly. And CBD also interacts with another receptor in the brain that researchers have linked to anxiety.
Should You Try It?
Shannon and other experts we spoke with say that before turning to CBD for sleep, you should try more proven therapies. The best evidence is for a form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, which focuses on changing habits that disrupt sleep. Research shows it’s more effective and safer than prescription or over-the-counter sleep drugs, which can cause dependence and pose a risk of overdose and death.
Although CBD’s benefits for sleep are still unclear, Shannon notes that CBD poses few side effects. The most common one in his study was fatigue. Other common side effects can include diarrhea and changes in appetite and weight.
If other remedies haven’t helped and you want to give CBD for sleep a try, experts we spoke with said here are some things to consider:
CBD may work better for anxiety than sleep. There’s more evidence for CBD’s ability to ease your anxiety than to help you fall asleep, though helping you relax could help you sleep, too.
Short-term use might be best. CBD’s ability to improve sleep may diminish the longer you use it, so you may not want to use it daily or long-term. In Shannon’s study, people whose main complaint was sleeplessness improved in the first month, but then faded during months two and three. And Michael Backes, an expert in cannabis science and policy and author of “Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana” (BDL/Hachette, 2014), says his research and interviews with users suggest that once a person is no longer chronically sleepy, CBD might, paradoxically, keep people awake.
Higher doses could work better. There’s not much research on dosing, but what there is suggests low doses might not be very effective. A 2004 study found that low doses (15 mg in this case) didn’t help people fall asleep and might actually have made people more wakeful. And an even earlier study found that a relatively large dose—160 mg—worked better than a lower one. In Shannon’s study, patients were given a 25 mg dose.
Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and on the advisory board the marijuana advocacy group NORML, suggests starting with a modest dose of 30 mg and slowly working up if that doesn’t work. And he cautions that a dose of 160 mg “is going to be incredibly expensive.”
Consider the form. Vaping CBD might work faster, because that quickly gets the compound into your system, says Earleywine, who is also the author of “Understanding Marijuana” (Oxford University Press, 2005). But pills, oils, and edibles such as gummy bears might help you sleep longer, because they release the CBD more slowly. If you opt for one of those forms, Earlywine suggests taking it about an hour before bedtime. (Read more about the different forms CBD comes in and how they affect the body differently.)
Look for quality products. Some studies suggest that many CBD products don’t have what they claim or are contaminated with pesticides or other harmful substances. (Read more about how to shop for CBD products.)
Use it safely. Last, talk with your doctor—especially if you take other meds—because CBD may interact with medications. (Read more about how to use CBD safely.)
Consumer Reports looks into whether CBD can help you sleep better, and what to look for in a product.
CBD oil and insomnia
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- Research overview
- The studies
- Patient perspectives
- Bottom line
Each night, millions of individuals in the United States have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. While for some this is a temporary problem, for others insomnia can become a chronic issue that detrimentally affects day-to-day life. An estimated 10% of American adults experience insomnia, which occurs at least three times per week.
According to The 2018 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll, only 46% of those who identified as having poor sleep patterns felt that they were very effective in getting things done during the day, compared with 89% of those who identified their sleep patterns as excellent.
Restful, nourishing sleep is not only essential to getting things done and performing at one’s best, it also supports optimal functioning of the immune system, mood stability, improved energy and motivation levels, and enhanced overall well-being.
Unfortunately, the quest to achieve a good night’s sleep can lead to those with insomnia becoming addicted to sleeping pills, which comes with a range of potentially dangerous side effects such as dizziness, daytime drowsiness, and a higher risk of mortality.
Anecdotal reports indicate that CBD oil may help to induce somnolence or sleepiness, with no known adverse side effects. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Anecdotal reports indicate that CBD oil may help to induce sleepiness, with no known adverse side effects.
There is conflicting evidence about the efficacy of CBD to support healthy sleep regulation. Some studies show that although CBD oil may help some individuals to fall asleep and stay asleep, it can cause wakefulness or disturbed sleep in others.
At present, there is also a lack of knowledge about the mechanisms by which CBD modulates sleep. It has been theorized that it may change dopamine levels, or exert effects over the body’s cannabinoid system, including the sleep-wake cycle.
Chronic insomnia is often closely linked to anxiety. Those who experience sleeplessness, or have trouble staying asleep, are often anxious about aspects of their waking life or anxious about their poor sleep patterns.
A 2019 retrospective case study in the Permanente Journal investigated the use of CBD for anxiety and sleep. Twenty-five of the 72 patients surveyed reported poor sleep as a primary concern, while 47 reported anxiety as a primary concern.
At the first monthly assessment following the beginning of CBD treatment (25-175 milligrams per day), 66% of patients experienced an improvement in sleep, while 25% experienced worse sleep. At the two-month mark, 56% reported an improvement in sleep compared with the previous month, while 26% reported worsening problems associated with their sleep. The patients demonstrated a more sustained response to CBD as a treatment for anxiety than sleep and experienced a more marked reduction in their anxiety than their insomnia.
The authors also noted that the CBD was well-accepted and well-tolerated by the patients in the study, with minimal side effects.
A 2006 study published in the journal of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies Letters, found that CBD increased wakefulness and decreased REM sleep in rats during their inactive cycle (when the lights were on). REM sleep refers to rapid eye movement, the phase of sleep in which dreaming occurs. No changes in sleep were observed during darkness, when rats are typically active. CBD appeared to increase activity in waking-related areas of the brain. The study also found that CBD induced an increase in dopamine release. Dopamine is one of several neurotransmitters involved in wakefulness.
One animal study suggests that despite CBD’s popularity to aid sleep, it may, in fact, promote wakefulness by decreasing REM sleep. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
This animal study suggests that, despite CBD’s popularity to aid sleep, it may in fact promote wakefulness by decreasing REM sleep. However, for those individuals with a REM sleep disorder, this could be beneficial. In fact, a 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, researchers reported several case studies where Parkinson’s patients with REM behavior disorder experienced marked improvement when using CBD.
Similarly, patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also often have sleep disturbances and nightmares, which occur during REM sleep. In a 2019 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, cannabidiol improved the sleep quality of 38% of the patients with PTSD, and reduced nightmares.
A 2018 randomized controlled trial with human participants published in Frontiers in Pharmacology investigated the effects of CBD on the sleep-wake cycle of normal, healthy volunteers. Twenty-seven research participants received either CBD or a placebo over two nights. The study found that CBD did not produce any significant effect, nor did it interfere with the normal sleep cycle of these healthy individuals.
Insomniacs who ingested daily doses of 40, 80, or 160 milligrams of CBD reported having a better night’s sleep and less dream recall than those who took a placebo. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Insomniacs who ingested daily doses of 40, 80, or 160 milligrams of CBD reported having a better night’s sleep and less dream recall than those who took a placebo. The authors of the study hypothesized the CBD may decrease REM sleep capacity, or decrease the frequency of periods of wakefulness during the night, which helps with remembering dreams.
For a long time, chronic insomnia severely affected Paul Miller’s waking life. “I had tried melatonin and various herbal teas, but nothing worked. I was stressed out and exhausted, and it was a vicious cycle. The more I couldn’t sleep, the more stressed I became about it.”
When a friend gave Miller a 500 milligram tincture of CBD oil to help with his sleeplessness, he initially set it aside.
“I knew nothing about it and was hesitant to even try it because I had no idea what the side effects might be,” Miller explained to Weedmaps News.
One restless night, however, Miller was so desperate for sleep he took the CBD oil down from the shelf and tried it.
Further research into appropriate dosages and more randomized clinical trials in the future may offer greater insights and understanding into the use of CBD as a sleep aid. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
“It worked so well that I started researching more about it, and that’s what led me to starting our company, Lokus Nutrition, a CBD company. The reason we exist is because of my insomnia.”
Daniel Robbins turned to CBD as an alternative to other sleep medication. “I have a hard time falling asleep and used to take melatonin or Sleep Aid, but would have side effects like a racing heart, or waking up very groggy and unable to go back to sleep.”
He started experimenting with CBD gummies, taking 10-20 milligrams before sleep, with no other medication. “At first I noticed a feeling of relaxation and then I would begin to feel sleepy. “I fall asleep faster, with zero side effects. It has done wonders.”
Robbins notes that the CBD also helps to manage his anxiety. “Additionally, I take it in the morning and feel calm when I start to have anxiety coming on as I often get very stressed and anxious.”
Studies show that CBD may support healthy sleep in some individuals, but it can potentially increase sleeplessness in others. Further research into appropriate dosages and more randomized clinical trials in the future may offer greater insights and understanding into the use of CBD as a sleep aid.
CBD oil and insomnia Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Research overview The studies Patient perspectives Bottom line Each