How Can Cannabis and CBD Help You Sleep Better?

Cannabis is renowned for its relaxing effects, and it is no surprise that many people use it to help them get to sleep. Yet, there are some people who find that some varieties and products have the opposite effect! This is usually due to two reasons:

  1. Individual differences in a person’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
  2. The set of cannabinoids and terpenes being used, and in what dosage.

Which Cannabinoids and Terpenes Help You Get to Sleep?

The following cannabinoids (cannabis chemicals) and terpenes can help a person get to sleep:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – even low doses can help a person get to sleep. This is because THC is a partial agonist of the CB1 receptors in the brain, meaning that it turns them on and produces the more sleepy, “high” or “stoned” effects usually associated with cannabis.
  • Cannabinol (CBN) – results from aged THC, losing some of its psychoactivity, but still retaining some of its sedative effects.
  • The terpenes myrcene, linalool and humulene are “sleepy” terpenes. Terpenes interact with and influence the way cannabinoids behave.
  • The terpene bisabolol can increase THC’s sedative effects. Bisabolol is a floral-smelling terpene found in chamomile.

Does CBD (Cannabidiol) Help You Get to Sleep?

It is commonly claimed that CBD can help you get to sleep, and there are certainly reports from people who say, “Yes, it does.” However, the picture is a bit more complex. For some people, CBD on its own can actually have more wakening effects than sleepy ones.

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This is not a surprise because to feel sleepy, our bodies need the CB1 receptor to be activated but CBD can work to reduce this receptor’s activity. This means it is generally the more psychoactive cannabinoids that have more sedative effects.

However, there is a way that CBD can help a person get to sleep, and that is to lower anxiety and improve mood throughout the day. If you can turn down the volume of the background noise during the day, you are less on edge at night.

Some people have also reported that moderate to high doses of CBD have made them feel sleepy. This could be due to CBD calming down the brain to an extent, but could also be due to the action of sleepy terpenes.

Sleep; REM sleep; deep sleep. An artist illustration of dreaming during REM sleep.
An illustration to showcase the brainactivity during REM-sleep. Author: Lorenza Walker. From: CC BY-SA 4.0.

Which Cannabinoids and Terpenes Can Keep You Awake?

The following combination of cannabinoids and terpenes can have more “awake” or energizing effects:

  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) – low doses are a CB1 receptor antagonist, meaning it can have more clear, energetic effects compared to THC.
  • Cannabigerol (CBG) – similar to CBD, is a selective CB1 receptor antagonist, meaning it “turns off” the sedative actions of CB1 receptor agonists like THC to a certain effect. Similar to CBD, CBG may help with insomnia via treating anxiety.
  • A mixture of the terpenes beta-caryophyllene, limonene and pinene in high amounts can promote wakefulness. On their own or in small doses, and they can be relaxing.

How to Dose and Ingest Medical Marijuana for Sleeplessness and Insomnia

Do you get between 6 and 8 hours of undisturbed sleep per night on a regular basis? If you are sleeping less than 6 hours regularly and/or get 6+ hours, but this 6 hours is broken and disturbed, then you could be suffering from insomnia. 6 hours of undisturbed sleep per day is the baseline for optimal sleep health.

Less than this, and you are more prone to illness, depression and anxiety. Your immune system is dampened, and injuries can take longer to heal. Chronic insomnia and sleeplessness can lead to chronic inflammation, and can actually cause chronic joint and bone pain, and can make arthritis worse. Weight is also harder to control and maintain.

Although everyone is different, here is a general protocol that you can use when it comes to dosing cannabis for insomnia:

  • You can use CBD during the day to lower your anxiety.
  • Use about 2.5 mg of THC (preferably with a mix of CBN, linalool, myrcene, humulene and bisabolol as well) in tincture form about 30 minutes – 1 hour before bed.
  • After a period of time, reassess: do you now get 6+ hours of undisturbed sleep? (And not more than 9 hours – oversleeping can be an issue.)
  • If you don’t, increase the dosage by another 2.5 mg. Please note: the more THC you use, the more psychoactive it can get. Some people can get anxious if they use too much THC, which is not helpful for sleep!
  • Optional: tinctures can have long-lasting effects and can help a person stay asleep. Some people may vape or inhale a small amount of cannabis flower or extract to help get to sleep, as the effects are immediate.

Does Using Cannabis and CBD Lead to Better Quality Sleep?

One of the criticisms of using cannabis (particularly THC) for sleeplessness is that it can lead to less time in REM sleep (dream sleep). A lack of REM sleep may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and depression, although cannabinoids can treat these conditions as well! REM sleep also helps with memory retention. One of the reasons why it is best to see if using a low dose of THC and a mixture of other, less psychoactive cannabinoids like CBN is effective, is to reduce the negative impact on REM sleep due to over-intoxication.

What cannabis does do is increase the number of hours in deep sleep or slow wave sleep. This is known as the restorative stage of sleep. This can help aid in recovery from pain and injuries, and keeps your immune system in better shape. The increased number of hours in deep sleep can decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and depression, so some of the negatives of a lack of REM sleep may be mitigated to some extent.

So, these are the stages of sleep cannabis can potentially help in, and where it can be negative:

    • Stages 1, 2 and 3 – the transition phases of sleep, where the body goes from lighter to deeper sleep in a progressive manner. Cannabis can help in this stage.
    • Stage 4 – deep sleep. The restorative stage of sleep. THC increases the amount of time in this stage of sleep.
    • Stage 5 – REM sleep. This is where the brain consolidates memories and restores the brain to a normal level. The amount of time spent in this stage of sleep is decreased when using THC. Some people find that they can wake up feeling a little groggy after using THC the night before, and the lack of REM sleep could be one of the reasons why. Using lower doses of THC, the terpene pinene, and balancing out the THC with CBD use during the daytime may help mitigate this to some extent.
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Top 10 CBD Products for Sleep. Cannabidiol (CBD) oils, gummies, bathing equipment.

Is Cannabis and CBD the Right Choice for Me?

Cannabis and CBD shouldn’t be your first solution when it comes to improving your sleep. Before any medication is recommended or prescribed, here are some things you can do to ensure a restful, refreshing night’s sleep:

  • Get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 4 – 6 times per week and/or a minimum of 5,000 steps per day, if possible.
  • A healthy, balanced diet.
  • Turning off all screens one hour prior to sleep – the blue screens of computer monitors and televisions disturbs sleep.
  • Herbal teas containing lavender, chamomile, lemon balm and/or valerian roots can help reduce anxiety and induce sleep.
  • Avoiding refined sugars.
  • Avoiding the use of caffeine after 5 pm.
  • Sticking to a fixed bedtime routine.
  • Do not eat anything 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoiding strenuous physical or mental activities 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Meditation.

When these do not work, medications may be prescribed. These can include:

  • Melatonin – the sleep hormone. This is useful for short-term use, and unlike many other sleep medications is not physically addictive. However, tolerance can build up, and some people experience side-effects like headaches, nausea and dizziness. Melatonin can also interfere with diabetes medications, anticoagulants, immunosuppressants (drugs that reduce the immune system), and anticonvulsants (which are often sedatives).
  • Low doses of antidepressants can help treat anxiety, which can help some get to sleep as well.

In more severe cases of insomnia, sedatives may be prescribed. These include:

  • Benzodiazepine sedatives: triazolam (Halcion), estazolam, lorazepam (Ativan), temazepam (Restoril), flurazepam, and quazepam (Doral).
  • Non-benzodiazepine sedatives: zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata).

These sedatives are physically addictive, and can have many other side-effects like:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Light-headedness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of balance
  • Memory problems
  • Blurred and/or double vision
  • Rashes
  • Headaches
  • Low blood pressure
  • Incontinence
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Jaundice (yellow skin) – rarely
  • Blood disorders – rarely

Cannabis and CBD is certainly a better alternative to sedatives, which are far more addictive, dangerous and have many more negative side-effects. If you suffer from insomnia, nothing else works, and you do not want to use sedatives, then cannabis and CBD may be a better choice for you.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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