Does marijuana improve quality of sleep? Could using marijuana for sleep harm your health in the long term? This article answers your questions on marijuana’s effects on sleep and reveals the full scope of both the benefits and risks
Cannabis is known to help you fall asleep, but could it harm your sleep health and the quality of sleep you experience in the long term?
Studies show that marijuana can make us sleep too long and wake up feeling groggy or 'hung-over'.
So, how can we be sure that using marijuana is safe and more effective than standard medications that are prescribed for sleep disorders?
In this article, we’ll dive into studies that show how marijuana operates in our brain to help us to fall asleep, how we should use it for optimal benefits, as well as what risks you should be aware of.
First, how big is America’s sleep problem and are traditional pharmaceuticals helping or hurting our health?
Sleeping Problems & Disorders in the US
Don’t underestimate the power of a good nights rest. Getting proper sleep each night helps us to have better memory, cognitive action, and more accurate motor functions.
Healthy sleep also allows our body to regulate our heart rate, blood pressure, and growth hormones.
Even just one night of inadequate sleep can impair our ability to learn new things, repair cells and tissues throughout our body, and keep daily stress under control.
And surveys show that millions of Americans struggle with getting adequate amounts of quality sleep each day, which is having a tremendous impact on health.
According to the latest data, roughly 1in 5 Americans have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder such as insomnia.
Sleeping disorders aren’t rare either. Data reveals that -
Insomnia affects approximately 60 million
Sleep Apnea affects approximately 22 million
Restless Legs Syndrome affects approximately 12 million
REM sleep disorder affects approximately 3 million
Narcolepsy affects approximately 200 thousand
Sleeping disorders and other sleep problems can be caused by multiple factors. For example, international travel can cause jetlag, a common acute sleeping problem.
Other factors that can keep us awake when we should be sleeping, which can lead to sleep disorder include
Pain & discomfort
Overuse of electronics
Misuse of medications
In the US alone there are around 90 distinct sleep disorders that are being diagnosed and treated in the medical field.
Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety, and anti-depression medications are typically the first line of approach to help people with sleep.
While these medications can initially help to achieve better sleep, they come at a cost.
Extensive risks and side effects of commonly used prescription and OTC medications for sleep include –
Fatigue & dizziness
Dependency on medication
Attention span & memory loss
A 2012 study on Insomnia and sleep medicines showed that 80% of the study participants who used traditional sleep medications to deal with insomnia experienced some sort of adverse side effects.
That 80 % of people experiencing adverse and residual effects of sleep medications were much more likely to experience adverse effects and damage to health.
How Marijuana Helps You Fall Asleep
Numerous studies have confirmed that marijuana helps with reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, also known as sleep onset.
Multiple scientific reviews have also shown that, for those who have sleep problems waking them up frequently during sleep, marijuana can help them stay asleep longer.
It's no surprise then that doctors in at least 7 different states can legally be recommended medical marijuana to help with sleep disorders.
However, marijuana’s benefits in sleep stretch far beyond its natural calming and sedative effects.
It can relieve chronic and acute pain and inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of sleeplessness for millions each night.
Anxiety, worry, and stress are other major causes of sleep problems, and studies on marijuana and sleep show that it could help.
Marijuana could also help those with severe health conditions that cause symptoms such as muscle tension, nervous system issues, nausea and other problems that prevent healthy sleep.
So, if you’re in pain, stressed, or having stomach problems, marijuana could be a helpful sleep remedy.
But, not all marijuana is created equally. Different types and methods of taking marijuana have different effects.
Now, let's take an honest look at the risks of marijuana. Then, in the next section, we'll help you understand how to optimize marijuana use for a healthy approach to sleep.
Risks of Marijuana Use on Sleep
THC and CBD are two of over 120 chemical compounds in marijuana called cannabinoids.
THC is a psychoactive compound with a euphoric effect, while CBD is non-psychoactive compound.
Both compounds have been shown to have profound therapeutic properties that could be beneficial in remedying many of the issues that cause sleeplessness.
The cannabinoids in marijuana have a sedative, pain relieving, and anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety effect and this is what helps reduce sleep onset.
However, too much THC can cause you to sleep too long and heavy nighttime marijuana use is associated with “morning fogginess” that could affect daytime cognition.
Further studies also show that chronic marijuana users who quit using can experience withdrawal symptoms, which may increase symptoms of insomnia and sleeplessness.
Current data indicates that, in the long term, THC might actually have a negative impact on overall sleep health.
THC & REM sleep
Studies show that THC can reduce the amount of time spent during REM sleep, the final stage of the sleep cycle, indicating potential long-term problems of heavy marijuana use on sleep.
The full sleep cycle is an average of 90 minutes with REM sleep time increasing each time we cycle throughout the night.
REM sleep is known for being a vital component of the quality of sleep we experience and is thought to provide the feeling of being well rested and clearheaded.
This part of the sleep cycle is also considered to be the dream state of sleep a phenomenon referred to as the “rebound effect” occurs in chronic marijuana users who quit using. The experience causes intense, vivid dreams and nightmares.
It’s thought to possibly be some type of compensation for the REM suppression caused by heavy THC consumption, but scientists don’t yet fully understand the effect.
All things considered, for those with chronic nightmares caused by conditions such as PTSD, suppressing the dream state may actually be temporarily beneficial for sleep.
You can begin to see that marijuana and sleep is a complex topic. Chronic THC use does have risks to consider, especially for those at risk of mental illness, insomnia, and other sleep issues.
Could other compounds like CBD help balance the effects of THC?
Balancing CBD & THC for Sleep Benefits
As we mentioned, different strains have unique chemical compositions compounds such as CBD, the non-psychoactive compound mainly found in strains of cannabis called high-CBD hemp.
Thanks to their stimulating effect, high CBD strains are reported to improve alertness during the day, which can improve energy metabolism making it easier to rest and fall asleep at night.
A review of the scientific literature on sleep and marijuana shows that CBD, unlike THC, will not interfere with normal, healthy sleep cycles, and does not “alter normal sleep architecture”.
Along with many other health benefits, CBD reduces muscle spasticity, pain, stress-related anxiety, and depression, and has been shown to improve the quality of sleep and rest for those with insomnia and other conditions.
The review concludes with evidence from multiple studies indicating that CBD may hold tremendous potential in the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Also, CBD might even prevent, protect, and reduce the psychoactive effects of THC that increase certain risks by blocking it’s ability to bind with certain cells called cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB1.
Finding The Right Strain for Sleep
Which is most effective strain of marijuana for insomnia and sleep problems?
Marijuana’s effects on sleeping problems will depend on the severity of the symptoms causing your insomnia, dosage, potency, environment, genetics, and several other factors.
THC-dominant strains are typically reserved for nighttime use because of their relaxing, sedative effect.
Remember though, heavy THC too close to bedtime may cause oversleeping and daytime drowsiness.
CBD-dominant strains for sleep, such as AC/DC, are preferred for those who wish to avoid the psychoactive risks of THC.
Now that you understand THC and CBD a little better, you can use the information to decide which type of strain might be best for your needs.
Another option is to experiment with hybrid strains, which are types of marijuana that have been bred to produce custom ratios of THC, CBD, and other properties.
Learn More About Medical Marijuana’s Benefits
Marijuana is finally being recognized as a natural medicine with powerful therapeutic benefits in many different chronic conditions.
Continued legalization and policy reform will allow science to accomplish much-needed research into marijuana's effect on sleep.
As our understanding of the full scope of benefits and risks grows, so will our ability to optimize it for helping us to sleep.
Thanks for reading!
You can learn more about different strains, marijuana’s health effects, cannabis concentrates, and how marijuana works in our other articles linked below.
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