What you need to know if you’re thinking about using CBD for sleep problems
I’ve struggled with sleep problems for as long as I can remember. When I was young, a combination of bad sleep habits surrounding technology use (damn you Atari 2600 and Nintendo!) and an overactive mind made it extremely difficult for me to fall asleep. As I got older, my problems with technology never really went away, but severe cases of anxiety and depression took over as the main reasons I stared at the ceiling above my bed for more hours than I actually slept.
Now that I’ve reined in my depression and anxiety, my sleep has drastically improved. However, old habits die hard, and I still find it difficult most nights to get a full, restful night of sleep.
That’s why I have recently turned to CBDas a sleep aid. Here, I’ll share some of the research I’ve come across on why sleep is important and how CBD might help you get the rest your body so desperately needs. I’ll also toss in some of my own theories as to why CBD works so well for sleep problems, at least for me!
Why is sleep so important?
Before we get into how CBD might help you get more and better sleep, it might be a good idea to spend a moment reminding ourselves why improving your sleep is one of the single most important things you can do for your health.
I had always known that sleep is pretty important, and I think on some level all of us really know that our bad sleep habits are unhealthy. However, I never knew just how bad sleep deprivation really is until I started looking into it. Seriously, not getting enough restful sleep can really mess you up!
As it turns out, research has pretty conclusively linked poor sleep to everything from obesity to heart disease and stroke. Here is a list of some of the things your lack of sleep can contribute to:
- General inflammation
- Heart disease
- Lowered concentration and productivity
- Lowered immune functions
That’s a lot of scariness, right there, and it can only take a missed hour of sleep a few nights a week to put you in the danger zone. I won’t go into detail here (click any of the bullet points above to take a look at an associated study), but suffice it to say, not getting enough sleep can really do a number on your body.
The ways CBD might impact your sleep
The way I look at this, there are two main ways CBD might help you get a good night of sleep. First, CBD interacts with your endocannabinoid system by binding with receptors in your brain and throughout your body. Some of those receptors influence things like hormones and neurotransmitters that also have an impact on your sleep/wake cycle, also known as your circadian rhythm. In this case, CBD would have a direct impact on when and how well you sleep.
Alternatively, there are some indirect ways CBD could help. Many people, myself very much included, have trouble falling and staying asleep due to issues like anxiety, depression, inflammation, or any other host of bodily problems that make it hard to relax. By ameliorating these conditions, CBD can put you in a position where it’s easier to fall asleep.
Think of it like wearing an eye mask and earplugs to bed. The mask and plugs aren’t actually directly interacting with your brain to put you to sleep, but they are definitely adjusting conditions so that you have an easier time drifting off.
How CBD directly impacts sleep
Here is the really crazy thing about CBD: according to some studies, CBD actually makes you more alert and wakeful when taken in small doses (we are talking 15mg and under for most people). As far as researchers know, it seems to have something to do with the regulation of our dopamine systems.
The good news is that this doesn’t appear to be the result of a classically understood stimulant effect on the part of CBD. Rather, CBD is helping to regulate your circadian rhythm in a way that puts your feeling of tiredness back in sync with the time of day it is. In effect, it makes you feel more awake during the day and more tired after the sun goes down. During the day time at low doses, CBD can almost be like a cup of coffee, but without the jitters and other withdraw symptoms.
So, why do so many people say that higher doses of CBD makes them feel sleepy, even during the day? As it so happens, CBD is what is known as a biphasic substance, which means it has different effects depending on the dosage you take. Lower doses perk people up, while higher doses make people sleepy.
The mechanisms at work here are still largely speculative, but the biphasic nature of CBD is pretty established. If you are looking for CBD to just straight-up make you tired, then doses on the larger side look like the way to go.
How CBD indirectly impacts sleep
This is where I think CBD really shines as a way of dealing with sleep problems. Even though early studies show that CBD helps regulate your circadian rhythm, the real benefit of CBD, in my mind, is how it combats the underlying issues that prevent you from getting to sleep in the first place.
In a previous blog post, I talked about CBD’s ability to help fight anxiety. In a nutshell, CBD combats stress and regulates some key neurotransmitters that help you relax. Definitely check out that post if you are interested in the deeper story!
What this means is that CBD could be a godsend if you are having trouble sleeping due to stress and anxiety. If you are anything like me, then trying to sleep when your body is racked with tension can be excruciating. Alleviating some of that discomfort caused by anxiety might give you the leg up you need to finally drift off into a comfortable slumber. There are even studies out there that have shown that CBD is effective at helping those suffering from PTSD get more, higher quality sleep.
Similarly, many people might be having trouble getting to sleep because of issues related to chronic pain and inflammation, two things CBD can also impact (see my post on pain here!). Studies also show that CBD helps those with chronic pain drift off to sleep easier, so there is some science to back this stuff up as well.
Independent of the studies, though, the indirect impact of CBD just makes a lot of sense to me. If you take two people, one relaxed and one suffering from anxiety or chronic pain, which do you think is going to have an easier time getting a full, restful night of sleep? If CBD can really help with anxiety and pain, which it looks like it can, then using CBD as an indirect method of combating sleep problems is a no-brainer.
Even though it’s anecdotal, the inclusion of CBD into my nightly routine has definitely helped me start to overcome my problems with insomnia. Since I have a history of anxiety, I suspect it might be CBD’s indirect impact on sleep that helps me so much, but as I pointed out, there is some reason to think that CBD itself might also help regulate your body’s sleep/wake cycles.
Have you tried CBD for sleep? What have your results been? Let me know in the comments below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!