Getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining good health and well-being. CBD can promote better sleep by supporting circadian rhythm and the brain’s sleep-wake cycles. It provides people with a natural means to calm down at night, quickly fall asleep, and enhance sleep quality through more significant REM. It achieves these benefits for sleep health through the endocannabinoid system, which supports regulating brain activity and circadian function. In many, it’s even able to assist with some forms of insomnia or sleep disorders. However, evidence for these effects is more temperamental. More than half of Australians have some form of chronic sleep problem that affects their ability to rest and recover. It’s no wonder CBD has seen considerable increases in popularity as an aid for sleep health. Let’s explore CBD’s powerful benefits for sleep and how it can help you get more restorative, refreshing and deep periods of sleep for greater well-being.
- 1 What is CBD?
- 2 Importance of Sleep
- 3 Impacts of Poor Sleep
- 4 Can CBD Help With Sleep?
- 5 Evidence for CBD’s Sleep Benefits
- 6 CBD for Sleep Disorders
- 7 How to Use CBD for Sleep
- 8 Side Effects & Risks
- 9 FAQs
- 10 Conclusion
What is CBD?
Derived from industrial hemp plants (which don’t contain THC), CBD is a cannabinoid with therapeutic effects. It is extracted from this plant into a sleep-promoting product. It is one of more than a hundred naturally occurring cannabinoid compounds that have a range of beneficial effects. When consumed, the cannabinoid binds with the endocannabinoid system of the body. This system consists of receptors throughout the brain, nervous system, and body. They’re known as the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They trigger the production of endogenous endocannabinoids, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiolytic, and calming mental effects.
Notably, CBD has no psychoactive effects. It doesn’t carry the risk of causing issues with mental health that can be triggered by psychoactive compounds like THC (the other prominent cannabinoid). What’s more is that it lacks any addictive properties, which can cause dependency. Because it’s non-addictive, you also won’t experience any withdrawal issues or problems involved in stopping your usage of CBD. It’s also entirely natural, has few side effects and comes completely from plant sources.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep plays an essential role in restoring both the body and brain. It’s critical for hormone balance, neurological regulation and normal functioning of bodily systems like immunity. During sleep, our brain recovers, forms memories, repairs neurons, and clears adenosine, which is necessary for cognition. Sleep is essential for mood, energy, and attention span during the day. Plus, it can influence our social interactions. We rely on sleep for healthy, positive relationships and resilience in our mood. It also plays a role in learning. Memories, for example, are built and embedded during REM-stage sleep.
Impacts of Poor Sleep
For those with insomnia or issues with their sleep patterns, the health consequences can be dire due to the importance of sleep in almost all facets of health. Chronic sleep problems or insomnia increase mortality risk. They’re a significant contributor to many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular or heart diseases, autoimmune conditions and impaired immunity. Those who sleep poorly with not enough sleep length or quality also risk increasing their susceptibility to mental illnesses like depression, suffering from poor mood and seeing delayed recovery from exercise. Not sleeping damages all aspects of health in both the brain and body. It is increasingly being thought to be a contributor to growing rates of cancer, obesity and mental health declines in Australia.
For the average person, doctors and scientists use 7-9 hours of sleep each night as the benchmark for a healthy sleep schedule and length. Much more or less sleep outside of this window can have dire effects. In Australia, an increasing number of people are suffering from sleep disorders and finding challenges in getting to sleep. Insomnia affects many and can also cause early or intermittent waking. Sleep quality is problematic for others, and a lack of deep sleep with plenty of REM is a concern. Sleeping lightly and failing to cycle through sleep stages means you won’t feel recovered and will struggle with focus, energy, plus exercise performance. These sleep issues have motivated people to pursue natural sleeping aids such as melatonin or CBD.
What Causes Sleep Problems and Insomnia?
Like many neurological problems, sleep disorders can be complex and multi-faceted and have a range of causes. These include genetics, mental health conditions, neurotransmitter imbalances, or sleep apnea. The two most prominent causes of sleep problems are stress and blue light exposure at night from screen use. These factors substantially disrupt our sleep patterns and can cause insomnia in dire cases.
Stress, for example, overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system, making us feel alert and awake when our minds should be calming down to prepare for sleep. Exposure to blue light at night can prevent the brain from naturally producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Because of the increasing prevalence of both stress and screen usage in modern society, each of these factors is worsening the insomnia epidemic striking Australia and other countries.
Can CBD Help With Sleep?
CBD has a range of properties that make it excellent in promoting better sleep. Most people are aware of its ability to help with inflammation, anxiety or pain. But its usefulness in assisting users to calm down at night, sleep better and obtain longer, deeper sleep can’t be understated. The cannabinoid is also natural and can be used every night, making it a great alternative to pharmaceutical sleep medications. It’s positioned more similarly to melatonin and natural compounds that assist with sleep without causing significant drowsiness or worsening insomnia. Let’s take a look at how CBD helps with sleep.
Preventing Sleep Disruption from Anxiety
CBD helps users calm down before bed, which helps prime the mind for sleep. It has anxiolytic capabilities that enable it to alleviate stress, anxiety and overthinking, which can strike at bedtime. This facilitates better sleep by preventing stress hormones from being released at night, which can delay sleep and reduce its depth—excessive worry and anxiousness cause the sympathetic nervous system to become overactive at night, which triggers alertness. Relaxation into a parasympathetic nervous state is needed for healthy sleep length and quality.
CBD enables a smoother shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous states at night, promoting calmness and ease. It’s particularly effective in individuals who suffer from anxiety or chronic stress, which ongoingly affects their sleep. Stress can also reduce REM stage sleep stages and cause shallow, non-restorative sleep. Counteracting this by taking CBD an hour or two before bed, in combination with a good nighttime routine for calm, is ideal for regaining control of your sleeping pattern. Accounting for the nervous system and its activity is critical in ensuring your brain and body are best placed for a deep, restorative rest.
Supporting Circadian Rhythm
Within the brain, our sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm controls when we fall asleep and wake up. It’s a core pillar of sleep health as it dictates how long we sleep and influences sleep cycle stages. Maintaining a regular, consistent and healthy rhythm can be a significant challenge for those with sleep issues or insomnia. CBD can assist with circadian rhythm regularity via endocannabinoid system activation. This system plays a role in helping to regulate homeostasis and sleep. Endocannabinoids produced in the brain’s CB1 receptors help reinforce our sleep-wake cycles and prevent their disruption.
A complex interplay of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, GABA and norephedrine, stimulates this cycle within the brain. It’s thought that CBD’s ability to act on our GABA and serotonin receptors contributes to its sleep-promoting effects. In particular, the GABA production it stimulates in the hypothalamus may calm the mind and reduce norephedrine levels. Doing so means the sympathetic nervous system is more rapidly settled, and the brain is primed for sleep. Further, the homeostatic properties of the cannabinoid and modulation of serotonin allow CBD to assist the brain in transitioning towards a rest state. These pathways help users get to sleep on time each night, sleep more deeply, and reduce incidences of sleep delay. You might find it beneficial if you have mild insomnia, are having trouble with jet lag or want to recover your regular sleep pattern.
Aiding REM-Stage Sleep
REM (rapid eye movement) stage sleep is the most beneficial sleep phase. It’s where most of the restorative effects of sleep occur for the brain. Research shows CBD can increase the frequency and length of REM stage cycles in our sleep. It is thought to influence REM through endocannabinoid and neurotransmitter modulation. Studies have indicated it is particularly beneficial for those with stress or anxiety, which can adversely affect sleep quality through reductions in REM. CBD can suppress the sleep-damaging effects of anxiousness, lowering norephedrine in the brain to calm the mind into much deeper sleep. For those with RBD or REM sleep behaviour disorder, it may offer additional relief. Those suffering from this condition see night terrors occur and can struggle to experience adequate REM each night. CBD’s normalising properties for REM may help to alleviate the condition and episodes it causes.
Reducing Pain for Sleep
Those who suffer from different types of pain can experience disruptions to sleep or even insomnia due to pain. Issues like ongoing nerve pain can cause discomfort, creating anxiety and alertness at night. This results in greater wakefulness and impaired sleep patterns. Pain can also cause intermittent waking or issues in staying asleep if it happens periodically during the night. CBD has analgesic effects and helps with pain by lowering our perception of it in nerve signals or nociception. By dampening nociception, sensations of pain become less impactful. They can be more easily tolerated, which makes getting to sleep and avoiding wake-ups more possible.
Evidence for CBD’s Sleep Benefits
While there is limited research on CBD’s benefits for sleep, the evidence is promising. A 2019 study on 103 participants who had a sleep disorder due to anxiety demonstrated the cannabinoid’s powers in aiding sleep. Researchers gave the subjects CBD for sleep each night to study the effects on their sleep-wake patterns over three months. The doses used were around three to six drops. They found that CBD was effective in reducing anxiety levels and helping subjects manage their stress at night. More than two-thirds of subjects reported better, more restorative sleep.
Separate studies have corroborated these findings, noting that the cannabinoid is most efficacious amongst users with anxiety or stress, which affects their sleep. CBD’s anxiolytic effects are behind these benefits. Researchers have also noted that it appears to work better for short-term use. Taking CBD long-term for sleep had a ‘diminishing returns’ effect similar to melatonin, as the brain developed tolerance to it. For those with mild insomnia, it may be well positioned as a short-term sleep aid to help rebuild circadian rhythm regularity. But acute or chronic insomnia disorders won’t see much benefit.
CBD for Sleep Disorders
Although it is potent for alleviating minor sleep conditions and promoting more profound rest, CBD has lower efficacy in treating most sleep disorders. Studies have displayed mixed results and low reliability of CBD in treating insomnia. Its benefits for limiting insomnia symptoms are highly individual, and most users reported either no real improvement or a worsening of symptoms in some cases. Similarly, for problems like sleep apnea and narcolepsy, results from using CBD have been mixed. More extensive clinical studies in the future may provide better conclusive evidence of whether CBD can indeed assist with debilitating sleep conditions like insomnia. Let’s look at each of these disorders and whether CBD might offer some relief.
Insomnia is a category of sleep disorder that includes delayed sleep, early wake-ups or intermittent wakefulness. This sleepness significantly affects our focus, mood, energy levels and immunity. CBD doesn’t appear to be able to treat or resolve insomnia directly based on currently available studies. Where it assists in limiting the impact of anxiety or stress-related insomnia cases, anxiety disorders and chronic stress can significantly damage the brain’s ability to regulate sleep. Each of these issues causes heightened norephedrine and cortisol at night, which keeps us awake or alert, even if we are exhausted.
Reversing this can be very challenging, particularly at night when we are alone with our thoughts. Promoting relaxation, neurotransmitter normalisation, and suppression of norephrine is where CBD excels for those suffering from insomnia due to anxiousness. Alleviating the racing thoughts, panic, and overactive mind at bedtime greatly benefits many. Not being able to fall asleep can even cause or worsen anxious feelings, which the cannabinoid helps to counteract.
Around 5% of people in Australia suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, which causes breathing problems at night that result in intermittent waking. During sleep apnoea, the airway in our throat becomes blocked or closes, which triggers breathing to stop and start. It can cause micro wake-ups, which are not noticed but result in poor sleep quality and daytime drowsiness. In some cases, it’s even a contributor to insomnia or sleep disorders. Initial studies on CBD’s effects on sleep apnoea have been promising. While the mechanism is currently unclear, it appears to have some ability to prevent apnoea from both rodent and small-scale human studies. In particular, its ability to modulate serotonin is thought to assist with this. Serotonin plays a role in sleep apnoea because it influences the regulation of breathing. If it can be modulated to stimulate normal breathing behaviours through the nervous system at night, the impact of sleep apnoea can be reduced. These studies used low doses of CBD, and this benefit appeared to be somewhat unreliable, with little consistency across individuals.
During the day, it is expected to be alert, energised and focused. When narcolepsy occurs, the opposite effects are seen. Individuals with this condition experience substantial lethargy, drowsiness, sleepiness and poor focus in the day. They may even fall asleep during daytime hours, further disrupting circadian rhythm cycles. So far, research on CBD’s capacity to assist with narcolepsy is minimal. It has shown mixed results in helping treat daytime sleepiness, with a negative or exacerbating effect in some users. CBD’s relaxing, anxiolytic properties may cause further drowsiness in the day. It’s likely not suited to help with this condition.
REM Sleep Disorder
During REM Sleep Disorder, individuals react aggressively within REM-stage sleep cycles and can thrash or punch involuntarily. It can be detrimental for couples or those who sleep together, causing sleep disruptions for the partner. In small-scale trials amongst individuals with Parkinson’s disorder, CBD showed the ability to counteract this disorder. It helped them avoid symptoms and normalise their bedtime behaviours during REM sleep. While this was an early trial on only four individuals, and follow-up research is needed, it’s a positive signal for CBD’s benefits in mitigating REM Sleep Disorder.
How to Use CBD for Sleep
Using CBD for sleep is simple but requires some work and experimentation upfront to find an approach that works best for your unique sleep patterns. It’s always advisable to check in with your doctor before starting with CBD, however. They can help advise on whether it is suitable for your sleep problems or insomnia, plus aid with dosage recommendations. Avoid using CBD with any other sleep medications until you’ve confirmed with your doctor it’s safe to do so. Let’s consider some critical factors when using CBD for sleep.
When using CBD for sleep, dosage is a significant factor in your success. To begin with, use very conservative doses of several drops before bed to gauge your tolerance or any side effects. Over time, you can increase your dosages based on the results you see with your sleep. Most people find low doses under 300mg per night work better for sleep. High dosages of up to 600mg can counterintuitively worsen sleep or cause insomnia in some. In others, high dosages each night may be needed to lower anxiety for optimal sleep patterns. A good principle is finding the lowest dose that works for you to minimise side effect risk and tolerance build-up.
Dose Timing for Sleep
Most people use CBD an hour or two before bedtime to get the most out of it as a sleep aid. This is the best approach in targeting enhancements for sleep length or quality. Particularly if you suffer from nighttime anxiety or stress, timing your dose just before your bedtime hours will help to acutely mitigate these issues so you can get to sleep faster. Using it during the day is also viable, but it tends to be less productive for sleep.
Methods of Ingestion
The best method of ingesting CBD for sleep comes down to personal preference. You can use CBD through capsules, oils, tinctures, sprays, or gummies. The critical factor is avoiding THC in your product. THC is potentially dangerous if you have mental disorders or susceptibility to psychosis. It can also impair sleep as THC reduce REM-stage sleep quality. Always seek lab analysis of your product to ensure it doesn’t contain this cannabinoid.
Be aware that the brain builds a tolerance to CBD similar to other natural compounds such as melatonin. Taking it continually every night will mean you need higher doses to achieve the same benefits for sleep. Many people opt to cycle CBD and take breaks to minimise or avoid tolerance. It can also be alternated with other natural sleep aids like melatonin without causing cross-tolerance. You should also minimise the use of CBD to only when you need it or around particularly stressful nights where it can offer more significant benefits. Tolerance is inevitable but reflects the fact that CBD is best applied in short-term periods of use and is not a sustainable sleep aid.
Side Effects & Risks
Taking CBD to help with sleep is considerably safe, but there can be some side effects encountered in rare cases. Mild drowsiness, stomach aches, dry mouth, or appetite changes can occur but generally will rapidly pass. A critical risk to avoid is mixing CBD with other medications you could be using for insomnia or other conditions. This can cause adverse health effects. For most people, CBD is very well tolerated, natural, safe and problem-free. Even at very high doses, it appears to have minimal side effect risks and can’t cause addiction.
Check with your doctor before using CBD for your sleep. You’ll need to ensure it’s a good fit for you and won’t cause problems from medication mixing. Doctors can also advise if you should be exploring other options. For example, if you have insomnia, cognitive or sleep therapy may be more suitable. They’ll also be able to give you a better understanding of CBD’s risks for other health conditions you may have.
CBD has benefits for sleep, primarily by addressing factors like anxiety and stress that can contribute to sleep disturbances. It additionally can help support circadian rhythm regulation, sleep quality and REM-stage length through the endocannabinoid system. This system plays a role in the regulation of mood and sleep. Most individuals use CBD an hour or two before bed to help them relax into more restorative, deep sleep.
The choice of CBD product for sleep is individual and dependent on your own needs or preferences. It can be taken in many ways, using CBD oil, tinctures, gummies or lozenges. When choosing a CBD product for sleep, seeking high-quality, reputable products that offer third-party lab analysis is essential. Pure, accurately labelled products prevent contamination from THC, additives or pesticides. THC, in particular, can damage sleep quality and reduce REM-stage sleep.
CBD and melatonin serve different roles in sleep regulation. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, while CBD helps address underlying sleep-disrupting factors such as stress or anxiety. Whether CBD is “better” than melatonin depends on the individual’s specific sleep issues. Some individuals may find one more effective than the other. The response to either compound is highly individual and varies. They can be combined in many cases due to functioning on differing metabolic pathways to amplify their effects synergistically.
There isn’t a single ‘best’ CBD type or product for sleep or relaxation. Different offerings provide varying benefits and advantages. Full-spectrum CBD, for example, contains a range of phytonutrients from hemp, including terpenes and minor cannabinoids. Terpenes such as linalool can aid with relaxation, being anxiolytic. They also boost the effects of cannabinoids in promoting calmness through the entourage effect.
Similarly, minor cannabinoids such as CBN are excellent at aiding with rest, helping to stimulate sleep via endocannabinoid activity. CBD isolates are better suited to offering high strengths and purity of CBD. For sleep, this can be advantageous in those who are sensitive to other cannabinoids or looking to avoid any THC content.
Both CBD and melatonin can each offer benefits for insomnia, depending on the individual and their particular condition. Each is a natural compound that can assist with sleep pattern regulation, nighttime calmness, sleep quality and length. For those with insomnia caused by stress or anxiety, CBD is much more advantageous as it is anxiolytic. It helps users relax and primes the mind for sleep to avoid sleeplessness. Melatonin is better used to help trigger sleepiness at night as part of the sleep-wake cycle. Some individuals find a combination of both to be beneficial. Acute or chronic insomnia is less responsive to these chemicals and may require medical treatment.
Lower dosages of CBD are more effective in helping with sleep or insomnia for the majority of people. Studies have shown that 150mg or less of CBD per night offered the most significant improvements in bouts of minor insomnia, particularly among users with anxiety. High doses above 300mg per night often worsened insomnia or had mixed results. An optimal dose is individual; everyone responds differently to cannabinoids like CBD. Check with your doctor if you have a sleep disorder, as CBD may not be suitable in all cases.
Magnesium is safe to take with CBD. It can help to amplify CBD’s calming effects as a muscle relaxant and nervous system modulator. Magnesium, as an electrolyte, assists the brain and body relax and is frequently used to relieve stress symptoms. Taking it at night alongside CBD can help the nervous system transition into a parasympathetic rest state to facilitate sleep more easily.
Research to date has displayed mixed results when experimenting with CBD as an insomnia treatment. The best results in studies have been witnessed amongst those whose insomnia symptoms are the result of underlying anxiety. Anxiety at night can directly cause or exacerbate insomnia and lead to excessive alertness during sleep hours. For other forms of insomnia, CBD has little to no evidence of its efficacy as a solution or treatment option. It could sometimes help as a complementary compound to provide added calmness at night alongside sleep therapy or clinical treatments. For insomnia, it is crucial to prioritize overall sleep hygiene, including consistent sleep schedules and a conducive sleep environment, in combination with any interventions like CBD for sleep. Discuss treating your insomnia with your physician before considering CBD.
If you’re considering CBD for sleep, it’s worth exploring. It won’t cure insomnia or acute sleep disorders but can benefit sleep length, quality, and REM phase length. The cannabinoids activity in the brain’s CB1 receptors is the primary mechanism by which it promotes better sleep. It can help in circadian rhythm regularity, mitigate insomnia from anxiety, prevent pain from causing sleeplessness, and aid with stress at bedtime. It is most effective for sleep amongst those with anxiety or chronic stress who can apply CBD to calm down at bedtime. Using it over time should help with more consistent, restorative, high-quality sleep.