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CBD for sleep and insomnia: Can medical cannabis really help you sleep better?

by | Feb 25, 2021

A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health — right up there with eating well and exercising.

But around 30% of people struggle to switch off at night and don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death and is so widespread that it’s been described as a “public health epidemic”.

Anyone who has trouble sleeping knows how it impacts on all areas of life, including work and productivity, mood and relationships, and overall wellbeing.

The prevalence of CBD (cannabidiol) in healthcare in recent years means more people are curious about using it to help with sleep.

CBD — one of the most well-known therapeutic compounds in cannabis — is a natural alternative to pharmaceutical sleeping pills, such as Ambien and benzodiazepines, which can have unpleasant side effects.

Studies are finding that CBD may help some people sleep better and manage common disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnoea.

A recent survey found that sleep is the second most common reason why people use cannabis medicinally in New Zealand.

The sleep conditions represented in the survey were insomnia, sleep-related movement disorders (eg. restless leg syndrome), parasomnias (eg. sleep walking, nightmares), sleep apnoea or other sleep-related breathing disorders, and narcolepsy or other hypersomnia.

If you’re thinking about trying CBD to help with sleep, you’re not alone.

But before you rush to your doctor seeking a CBD oil prescription for your sleep problems, let’s take a look at what the science says.

Go deeper into the research with Ora Support, our medicinal cannabis education platform for patients and caregivers.


Getting a CBD prescription in New Zealand

This article will focus solely on CBD for sleep, not the cannabis plant’s other star compound, THC.

CBD is popular because it doesn’t produce the intoxicating effects that THC is known for and it seems to be well-tolerated by most people.

While THC is more known for aiding relaxation, CBD can also be sedating in higher doses.

It’s also easier to get a prescription for CBD oil in New Zealand than it is to access THC products.

You simply need to talk to your doctor about using CBD for your sleep issues.


CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

CBD for sleep and insomnia: Can cannabis help you sleep better?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for maintaining the body’s optimal balance and important functions, such as mood, sleep, pain management, memory, and more.

Evidence suggests the ECS also modulates the sleep-wake cycle.

CBD interacts with ECS receptors in the body to help support its natural balance.

We don’t yet know exactly how cannabis and CBD helps with sleep.

It may directly interact with receptors responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. Or it may help indirectly by relieving health conditions that disrupt sleep, such as anxiety, pain, and inflammation.

Either way, the limited research on this topic is finding that CBD can be a helpful sleep aid.


CBD and sleep: What does the research say?

CBD for sleep and insomnia: Can cannabis help you sleep better?


CBD and insomnia

A 2017 review of the research on cannabis and sleep states that CBD “may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia”.

However, results varied depending on the dose.

One study found that higher doses of CBD “increased total sleep time” and decreased the frequency of waking up during the night.

Although, at lower doses, CBD had a stimulating effect, which increased wakefulness.

A 2018 study of 409 people with insomnia found that consuming cannabis flower (not CBD specifically) is associated with “significant improvements in perceived insomnia”.

Subjects were asked to rate their self-perceived feelings of insomnia using a mobile app before and after consuming cannabis.

The study found that CBD was associated with “greater statistically significant symptom relief” than THC.


CBD and anxiety and stress

Anxiety is a common cause of sleep deprivation. And insufficient sleep can fuel anxiety.

It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.

CBD has shown potential as a treatment for anxiety disorders, which may indirectly help to improve sleep.

A retrospective study of 72 adults found that CBD helped to reduce anxiety and improve sleep within the first month.

“On average, anxiety and sleep improved for most patients, and these improvements were sustained over time.”

In addition to anxiety, CBD oil has shown potential as a treatment for sleep problems related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A 2016 case report on a 10-year-old girl with PTSD found that using CBD oil “resulted in a maintained decrease in anxiety and a steady improvement in the quality and quantity of the patient’s sleep”.


CBD for parasomnia

A small study of four patients with Parkinson’s disease found that CBD may help to control the symptoms of rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD).

RBD is a parasomnia in which people physically act out vivid dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during REM sleep.

It is strongly linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The study said the four patients treated with CBD “had prompt, substantial and persistent reduction in the frequency of RBD-related events”.


The all-natural sleep aid?

The research into CBD and sleep suggests that getting the right dose makes all the difference.

But other factors, such as the cannabis strain and terpene profile, will likely have an influence on the overall effect of CBD on sleep.

More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of CBD as a sleep aid, as well as the optimal dose and consumption method.

While the current research is promising and suggests that there are strong links between CBD and better quality sleep, questions remain.

If you are interested in trying CBD to help with sleep, as a natural alternative to over-the-counter medicines, you should ask your doctor about getting a prescription.

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