Of all the reasons people turn to cannabis, a good night’s sleep is at the top of the list. Considering that somewhere between 50 and 70 million adults in the U.S. struggle with sleep issues, it’s no surprise that people are looking for relief. And since cannabis promotes relaxation and even sedation, it certainly has its appeal come bedtime. When it comes to cannabis and sleep, here’s what you need to know.
How Does It Work?
Cannabis can thank its two most famous cannabinoids for promoting the zzzz’s. But while cannabidiol, or CBD, is known for its healing and relaxation powers, it’s tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that actually induces sleep.
Terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give the plant its amazingly diverse fragrances and flavors, may also play a role. Specific terpenes, like myrcene, caryophyllene, limonene, and linalool, also have sedative properties that can help promote sleep.
Current research suggests that THC-dominant strains can help people fall asleep faster and reduce time spent in REM sleep. For people whose insomnia is triggered by PTSD, this may be a good thing. Less REM sleep means less time spent dreaming, which can mean fewer nightmares for people living with PTSD. For regular insomniacs, reduced REM sleep means more time in deep sleep states - the restful stage of the sleep cycle.
Here’s the Catch
Prolonged use of any kind of sleep aid - cannabis included - can have its drawbacks. OTC medicines often have antihistamines, and people tend to quickly build up a tolerance that makes the medicine ineffective. A groggy hangover effect is another negative to standard OTC sleep aids. Using cannabis to fall asleep avoids these issues, but it can alter natural sleep cycles, which can have a negative impact in the long run. That’s because all stages of the sleep cycle, REM included, are important for the body’s cognitive and immune functions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, OTC options work in a pinch. But the best approach for chronic insomnia is often lifestyle changes. We second that idea. While cannabis isn’t a magic bullet for all of life’s ails, it’s a good option if you just need to get some sleep. Ask your favorite budtender for a bedtime recommendation, but use it sparingly. In the long run, you’re probably better off building a bedtime ritual, minimizing night-time distractions (particularly all of those devices) and finding a quiet space to call it a night.