Americans, as a rule, tend to be sleep-deprived. About one in three Americans gets less than their recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, a figure so staggering that the CDC has labeled sleep deprivation a “public health epidemic.” Whether it’s due to increased screen time or just the stresses of modern life, fewer people are getting enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t just feel bad; it can also be dangerous. One night of too little sleep results in cognitive and motor impairments, which in turn affect your ability to drive a car safely or perform well at work or school. In the long term, sleep deprivation is tied to weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other serious health problems.
Many people have acute or chronic insomnia--difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. If you’ve ever lain in bed awake the night before a big day, you’ve experienced a bout of insomnia. For some people, insomnia is an occasional consequence of caffeine consumption or anticipation.
For others, insomnia is a more serious and recurring issue, caused by a prolonged stressful situation, depression, or other external stimuli that are difficult to overcome in a day or two. Some people may be more susceptible to insomnia due to their genetic makeup.
Anyone who has experienced insomnia knows it can be frustrating, to the point where anxiety about sleep makes existing problems worse. Experts recommend lifestyle changes such as meditation, exercise, and stress management to treat insomnia.
It’s hard to overstate the value of these lifestyle changes when it comes to changing sleep patterns for the better, but some are starting to wonder if another tool could help them banish sleeplessness: CBD.
The Science Behind CBD and Sleep
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is one of the many cannabinoid substances present in cannabis plants. If you’re new to the cannabis scene, you might automatically associate cannabis with THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that gives marijuana its signature “high.” CBD affects the body differently than THC, without inducing a euphoric high or “stoned” sensation.
It’s now possible to buy products with minimal or no detectable THC, but with high CBD levels, unlocking the benefits of one without the sometimes-unwanted sensations triggered by the other.
Some CBD retailers hawk their wares as a magic bullet for any kind of health concern, including insomnia, but the reality of our current medical understanding of CBD is more complicated. Because of cannabis’s troubled legal history, research into CBD is far behind where it should be.
That doesn’t mean we’re totally clueless on the possible links between CBD and health, but anyone arguing that CBD is a 100 percent reliable cure for sleeplessness (or anything else) is probably trying to sell you something.
So, what do we know about the link between CBD and sleep? A 2017 review of the literature on cannabinoids and sleep notes that study results differ drastically, attributing variations to differing dosages, ratios of different cannabinoids, methods of delivery, and time of delivery. Reviewed studies suggest that high CBD dosages can increase sleep quality and quantity, while low dosages can actually increase wakefulness.
The review’s authors warn against regular usage that leads to dependence, but also suggest that CBD can have real therapeutic applications when the dose is appropriate. Studies found that CBD could lessen anxiety-related REM sleep suppression and increase overall sleep time in rats, as well as alleviating REM sleep disorders in people.
These studies need replication in large groups of human subjects before we can make definite links between CBD and human sleep behavior, but the early findings are promising.
CBD may also help mitigate anxiety, depression, pain, PTSD, and other conditions that contribute to insomnia. A recent study of 72 adults at a psychiatric clinic found that while no conclusions could be drawn from the (small) sample of patients who used CBD to address poor sleep, significant improvement was evident in patients presenting with anxiety.
A case study of a 10-year-old with insomnia related to post-traumatic stress disorder found that CBD reduced the patient’s anxiety, and subsequently the quantity and quality of sleep. Furthermore, CBD has demonstrated antidepressant qualities in rodent studies.
Ready to Try CBD? Here’s How.
If you’re interested in trying CBD to help sleep, there’s good news: it’s getting easier to buy it. The 2018 Farm Bill, which removed low-THC cannabis products from the Controlled Substances Act, as well as many state initiatives legalizing medical or recreational marijuana, have significantly boosted the CBD industry.
Experts estimate that the CBD market will be worth $22 billion by 2022 thanks to expanding sales totals. In many places, obtaining CBD is as easy as walking down the street to the store. In other places, online sales or medical dispensaries can provide purchasing options.
CBD products can contain no detectable THC, minimal THC, or even a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. The relationship between CBD products that contain THC and sleep needs further study, as does the relationship between “pure” CBD and sleep. There are a number of ways to take CBD, including oil tinctures (dropped under the tongue or mixed with food or drink), topical applications, edible candies, and vape cartridges.
There is significant debate in the CBD community about the best way to administer CBD for sleep, and new users may have to experiment to determine the dosage and delivery that works for them.
CBD retailer Foria Wellness recommends taking CBD supplements for sleep orally rather than through a vaporizer. The latter can generate a quick “spike” of CBD in the bloodstream rather than the prolonged, stable presence achieved by oral ingestion. Some manufacturers offer products that mix CBD with other sleep-promoting ingredients, such as melatonin.
The World Health Organization states that pure CBD does not have abuse potential or cause harm. A 2017 literature review “confirmed and extended” common clinical belief that CBD is generally safe and noted that CBD’s side-effect profile (it can cause fatigue, diarrhea, and changes in appetite and weight) is far less prominent than that of many traditional pharmaceuticals. But users should still be smart about where they buy their CBD.
Mislabeling is unfortunately common, and CBD products can contain too little CBD, too much THC, or even heavy metals and pesticides. Credible CBD companies provide transparent and robust third-party lab testing results to ensure their products’ safety and quality. Note as well that CBD can interact with some medications, so check with your doctor if you have any other prescriptions.
Insomnia is a challenging and frustrating condition, but early studies suggest that CBD could provide relief. While it’s not a magical cure-all, a growing number of people are incorporating CBD products into a healthy sleep regimen.