There’s not much better than a great night’s sleep. There’ nothing much worse than tossing and turning, counting sheep, and laying awake until the sun comes up.
The importance of sleep can’t be understated. It helps your body process memories from the day, protects your immune system, and restores the body. Lack of sleep can literally drive you crazy.
Fortunately, cannabis can be a powerful sleep aid. It’s no surprise that one of the top self-reported reasons for using cannabis is because it can help you sleep.
Why can cannabis help you sleep?
The endocannabinoid system — the body’s own cannabinoid system — is one of the body’s most important physiological systems. It’s involved in virtually every aspect of one’s physical and emotional health. So it should be no surprise, that the endocannabinoid mediates most the body’s rhythmic processes and can exert powerful influence over sleep.
How can cannabis help?
Cannabis can be helpful in a number of ways, from making it easier to fall asleep to helping you stay asleep once you've fallen asleep:
Cannabis may make falling asleep easier
Most sleep medications only have a nominal effect on the time it takes you to fall asleep. An National Institutes of Health study found that popular sleep medications accelerate sleep by a mere 12.8 minutes. Studies, on the other hand, have shown that a moderate amount of THC can help the insomnia-prone fall asleep up to an hour faster.
Cannabis may help you sleep more soundly during the night
Studies have demonstrated that cannabis can also help you sleep better at night, staying asleep longer without interruption. However, consume too much cannabis and you might feel drowsy the next day — a sort of cannabis “hangover.”
Cannabis may help you breathe better
Remarkably, 9% of women and 17% of men have what’s termed “sleep apnea” — problems breathing when they sleep. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Illinois published a study in the Frontiers in Psychology journal that provides evidence THC may open breathing pathways, thus making breathing easier.
CBD may help you sleep better (or keep you awake)
Anecdotally, through patients and clinicians, we hear CBD or strains rich in CBD work great for sleep. However, studies have demonstrated contradictory findings. Some studies have shown CBD can be a “wake-inducing” agent, meaning it would keep you alert and awake. Other studies suggest patients experience more restful sleep when administering CBD an hour or two before bed.
The reason for the disparity may likely be dose-dependent. Most drugs exert biphasic (or multiphasic) effects, meaning low and high doses affect people differently. CBD may be a wake inducing agent at lower doses and sleep inducing at slightly higher doses. For patients, finding the right dose can take a bit of trial and error.
It’s also possible that environment influences the effects of CBD. One animal study tested this hypothesis by administering CBD to rats with the lights on and the lights off. Interestingly, when the lights were on, CBD promoted wakefulness with the lights on and sleep with the lights off. The findings led researchers to conclude CBD may be helpful to treat patients suffering from somnolence (excessive daytime sleepiness).
Indica-dominant strains are generally better for sleep than sativa-dominant strains
Sativa-dominant strains are more likely to produce a stimulating head high, while indica-dominant strains are known for producing more sedative effects. Why? Most people think it has to do with THC. People incorrectly believe indica-dominant strains have more THC, so they are more sedative. This is actually incorrect. There are low THC indica-dominant strains, and high THC sativa-dominant strains (check out Durban Poison).
The reason indica-dominant strains produce a greater sedative effect is that they contain higher levels of a terpene called “myrcene.” Myrcene influences the permeability of cell membranes, and in fact, helps THC cross the blood-brain barrier more easily. Sativa-dominant strains have less than .5% myrcene, while indica-dominant strains often have between 1 and 3%.
Some popular indica-dominant strains for sleep are Granddaddy Purple, Bubba Kush, Northern Lights, Blue Cheese, Afghan Kush.
CBN may prove to be the ultimate insomnia-fighting cannabinoid
Everyone knows THC. More and more people are becoming familiar with CBD. But, CBN, another cannabinoid is generating interest for its potential as a sleep-inducing agent. Some are calling CBN, “the cannabinoid that helps you sleep.” While research is still lacking, many people report positive outcomes with CBN-rich strains. However, many strains are not particularly rich in CBN, as THC produces CBN when it degrades (after being exposed to light and oxygen — a process called oxidation. Over time, CBN levels in stored cannabis flower will increase. And, the poorer the storage method, the better — at least if you’re looking to increase CBN content.
Clearly, cannabis can be an effective sleep aid. However, cannabis (and all sleep medications) should be only be used as a temporary fix. It's important to also integrate lifestyle changes including more exercise (which helps boost vital cannabinoids in the body), better diet, relaxation techniques, meditation, and other effective methods that don’t pose any risks long-term. Likewise, everyone's body reacts differently to various cannabis strains. So keep in mind, it may take a bit of trial and error to find the strain that works the best.