How Cannabis Impacts Sleep

In the US, anywhere from 6-10% of adults suffer from insomnia. That means as many as 32 million people are unable to fall or stay asleep on any given night. Because of this, more and more pharmaceutical medications are being prescribed to people to help them get the sleep they need to be happy and healthy.

Adults require anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night to perform daily functions at their best. Sleep has a direct impact on a person’s cognitive ability, emotional regulation, and general well being so it’s no surprise that sleep aids, such as Unisom or Ambien, are so highly sought after. However, there are also natural remedies for sleepless nights. For instance, cannabis and CBD oils have become more and more popular for their positive effect on sleep.  

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Cannabis Has A Calming Effect

A 2014 study found that patients with PTSD who used cannabis relied on it to help them fall asleep at night, as well as to help them cope with day-to-day life. CBD and THC have been proven to help with other conditions such as depression and anxiety because they allow the brain to rest rather than replay scenarios or thoughts over and over.

It Helps Reduce Pain

Cannabis is a natural anti-inflammatory, meaning it can reduce swelling and inflammation throughout the body (much like ibuprofen). This can help reduce physical pain that may keep a person from falling asleep or wake them up in the middle of the night.

You Get A Deeper Sleep

Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics published a study in 1975, when research on cannabis and sleep first started, which concluded that Stage 4 Sleep slightly increased using the drug. Stage 4 Sleep is the deepest stage of the REM cycle. Additionally, the study concluded that cannabis/THC could be a “valuable tool in the elucidation of pharmacology and sleep”.

A Little Goes A Long Way

During a four-year clinical trial for a THC and CBD based pharmaceutical drug, researchers found that patients experienced improved sleep and better quality of life while taking the drug. They also found that throughout the trial patients did not need increased dosage due to a tolerance build up. In fact, a 2004 study found that increasing the dosage of THC/CBD from 5 to 15mg (each) increased wakefulness and had a negative impact on memory and sleepiness the following day. So, those who use cannabis as a sleep aid can rest easy knowing that they won’t build up a tolerance, and can rely on a small dose to get them to sleep.

Cannabis is a safe, natural way to reduce pain, relax the mind into falling asleep, getting deeper sleep, and staying asleep. Its effect on sleep quality and quantity matches many over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, without the potentially harmful chemicals. Still, while natural remedies are usually the cleanest way to get better sleep, cannabis is obviously not for everyone. Anyone should consult with their physician if sleeping has suddenly become a new problem. Additionally, while the pain management aspect of cannabis is a wonderful benefit, it does not replace physician monitoring for ongoing conditions.  

Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She specializes in sleep's role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.