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Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Countless studies have shown that getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours for most adults) is crucial for our overall health and well-being. It’s little wonder, then, that so many of us are on the hunt for substances that can support healthy sleep.
CBD and melatonin are frequently touted as effective natural sleep aids, and it is not uncommon to see products containing both to manage insomnia.
But when stacked against each other, which is better for some uninterrupted shuteye: CBD or melatonin? Ultimately, your sleep supplement of choice comes down to what’s causing your sleep troubles. For example, melatonin may be helpful if you’re suffering from jet lag. But, some CBD may do the trick if you’re feeling anxious.
Let’s learn more about CBD and melatonin, including how they’re similar, different, and decide which is best for you.
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What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is one of the two major cannabinoids found in cannabis. It is frequently derived from the hemp plant, a form of cannabis that contains 0.3% THC or less. (Hemp is legal in the United States at a federal level.)
Research indicates that CBD boasts many benefits, including analgesic (pain-relieving), anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic (anxiety-easing), and neuroprotective properties. It is also non-intoxicating, so those who use it cannot get high. It does, however, have mild psychoactive effects and can boost mood.
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How CBD works
There’s still much to learn about CBD and how it enacts its effects on the body. However, evidence suggests that CBD works via several mechanisms. Like all cannabinoids, CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system but does not bind directly with cannabinoid receptors.
Rather, there’s emerging evidence that CBD may prevent the body’s cannabinoid supply from breaking down, so these endocannabinoids can stay in circulation for longer. CBD can also desensitize the TRPV1 receptor, so we are less vulnerable to feeling pain. The TRPV1 receptor helps to regulate our body temperature and is also a heat and pain-sensing receptor.
CBD also appears to influence serotonergic transmission by binding to the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in bodily functions such as mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, and sexual desire. CBD’s effect on serotonin receptors may be responsible for its mood-improving, painkilling, and anti-emetic (anti-nausea) properties.
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People turn to CBD for different reasons. They use the cannabinoid to ease anxiety and stress, elevate mood, alleviate pain, or as a sleep aid. Some even use it to reduce seizures associated with certain forms of epilepsy.
There’s also mounting evidence that CBD may help to treat mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, soothe inflammation, and even enhance brain function thanks to its neuroprotective properties.
As discussed above, CBD’s significant benefits include its ability to soothe anxiety, reduce stress, elevate mood, and ease inflammation. Deep sleep can be easier to achieve when people feel more relaxed and comfortable.
It’s no surprise that a lot of people (42.5% of CBD users, according to one survey) turn to CBD to support their sleep problems.
Risks and Drawbacks
CBD is generally recognized to be safe and well-tolerated by most people. However, one main drawback is associated with the cannabinoid: CBD is metabolized by the liver using the same pathways as other drugs.
This means that CBD can interact with certain medications, usually by preventing them from breaking down. When medicine takes longer to be metabolized, it can keep circulating in the body longer than usual. So, before taking CBD for sleep, it’s wise to talk to your doctor or pharmacist, especially if you’re on any prescription medications.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland. The pineal gland receives information about the state of the light-dark cycle from the environment and then produces and secretes melatonin in response to these cues.
Melatonin plays a critical role in the onset of our circadian rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle. Although the body synthesizes melatonin, some individuals consume a melatonin supplement to help regulate or adjust their body’s internal clock. Melatonin supplements can be formulated from animals, microorganisms, or synthetic sources.
How It Works
Because of its role in regulating sleep and wakefulness, melatonin is often referred to as a “sleep hormone.” During daylight hours, melatonin production is low; however, melatonin production increases when the sun goes down.
Essentially: the later and darker it gets, the more melatonin your brain releases. And the more melatonin your brain releases, the more likely you are to get a good night’s sleep. This is why many sleep experts caution against using your phone in bed. The light your phone emits can actually decrease the amount of melatonin your brain produces, thus hindering sleep.
While the body produces its own supply of melatonin, some individuals take melatonin supplements to treat poor sleep caused by primary sleep disorders such as insomnia, hypersomnolence disorder, narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea hypopnea syndrome, central sleep apnea syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder, and parasomnias.
These disorders are characterized by disturbed sleep patterns that cannot be attributed to another medical or psychiatric condition (such as pain or anxiety). Some individuals also use melatonin to help reset their internal clock in response to jet lag.
Evidence suggests that melatonin can benefit sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), increase sleep duration, and improve sleep quality. There’s also research that melatonin may offer other health benefits, such as treating seasonal affective disorder or promoting eye health.
Risks and Drawbacks
Individuals who take melatonin supplements can sometimes experience side effects, including dizziness, nausea, and headaches. In addition, melatonin can interact with specific medications, such as diabetes medicines, contraceptives, and anticoagulants, so be sure to talk with your doctor before starting a melatonin supplement.
Similarities and Differences Between CBD and Melatonin
CBD and melatonin may both help support healthy sleep. However, there are some differences that set these two substances apart. While CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, melatonin supplements are most commonly produced synthetically.
CBD and melatonin also differ in the kinds of sleep issues they treat. While melatonin is used to address primary sleep disorders often caused by the dysregulation of the circadian rhythm, CBD targets problems like stress, anxiety, and inflammation that can hinder healthy slumber.
Finally, the two substances can be distinguished by how they work in the body. CBD targets several neurotransmitters linked to pain and mood, and melatonin mainly works via hormonal pathways.
How to Decide Which Is Best For You
When deciding whether a CBD or melatonin product is best for you, it’s essential to determine the source of your sleep troubles.
When to Use Melatonin
If you’re living with a sleep condition classified as a primary sleep disorder like insomnia, melatonin may be your best option. Additionally, this popular supplement may be your ticket to uninterrupted sleep if you’re suffering from jet lag or work irregular hours.
When to Use CBD
Alternatively, suppose stress, anxiety, inflammation, or pain hinder your sleep. In that case, CBD may help to foster an internal state of calm and ease that facilitates a good night of slumber.
Either way, it’s always advisable to talk to a physician before deciding, particularly as melatonin and CBD can interact with other drugs or sleep medications.
The Bottom Line
If you’re seeking a good night’s sleep, melatonin and CBD are both popular sleep aids. CBD products can help support sleep thanks to the cannabinoid’s anxiolytic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects. On the other hand, melatonin can help address sleep deprivation caused by primary sleep disorders such as insomnia. However, it’s important to note that long-term use of melatonin is thought to reduce its efficacy and is not well-studied, so be careful of using melatonin every day.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can CBD and melatonin be taken together?
There’s no clinical evidence to suggest that CBD and melatonin can’t be taken together. In fact, some brands have formulated CBD products, such as CBD oil or CBD gummies, that also contain melatonin.
Is CBD better for sleep than melatonin?
CBD and melatonin address distinct issues related to disturbed sleep. While melatonin can help address disorders related to circadian rhythm dysfunction, CBD supplements may address sleep problems caused by anxiety, stress, inflammation, or pain.
Is melatonin similar to CBD?
Melatonin and CBD are similar in supporting quality sleep and encouraging a good night’s rest.