Sleep disorders are incredibly common. Over 70 million adults in the US alone suffer from some type of sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia.
Unfortunately, most of the current treatments only provide short-term fixes. Sleep medications can cause a wide range of adverse effects, especially when taken long-term.
Looking for another solution to treating sleep disorders, the question is if Cannabidiol (CBD) has a tendency to induce sleepiness, can it be used to treat sleep disorders?
The answer seems to be yes, it can. Cannabidiol (CBD) contains properties that address some of the symptoms that lead to difficulty sleeping. CBD interacts with our cannabinoid system in beneficial ways and has a naturally sedative effect. Ongoing research looks very promising.
We have an article on What is Cannabidiol (CBD) that does have relevant information.
After some research, here is what I found about sleep disorders generally, their causes and using CBD to help with sleep problems.
What Are Common Sleep Disorders and Their Causes?
A wide variety of issues can lead to sleepless nights. Some of the most common causes of sleep problems include:
- Physical issues (chronic pain or headaches)
- Medical issues (asthma, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome)
- Psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety, or stress)
- Environmental issues (bright light, partner snoring, and other noises)
When these problems lead to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, you may suffer from acute or chronic secondary insomnia.
Acute insomnia may only last for one or two nights per week while chronic insomnia involves at least three sleepless nights per week for three months or longer.
Besides insomnia, people may find it hard to sleep when suffering from any of the following sleep disorders:
- Sleep apnoea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Night terrors (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nightmares)
- Chronic pain
- Stress and anxiety
Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and drugs can also keep people from getting adequate sleep.
Traditional Treatments for Sleep Disorders
For occasional sleepless nights, doctors often recommend setting a consistent bedtime, exercising more, and avoiding caffeine and food before bed.
When people suffer from severe, unexplained sleep difficulties, physicians may recommend a sleep study. A sleep study allows a sleep technologist to record biological functions including brain wave activity and eye movement.
The data from the sleep study helps physicians diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan. Common treatments for severe sleep disorders include:
- Relaxation training
- Stimulus control
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Sleep medications
Relaxation training is a technique that requires the person to tense and relax muscles in different parts of the body. This is supposed to help relax the body and promote sleep.
Stimulus control requires the limitation of activities in the bedroom. Physicians may recommend not watching TV in the bedroom or only going to the bedroom when you start to feel sleepy.
Cognitive behavioural therapy includes changes to your lifestyle. This may include maintaining a regular sleep schedule or eliminating mid-afternoon naps.
Therapy and relaxation techniques may not work for all sleep disorders. Restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, and other physical or medical issues require further treatment, such as sleep medications.
Unfortunately, sleep aids do not provide a long-term solution. In fact, doctors typically only approve the use of sleep medications for several weeks. Some of the side effects of sleep aids include:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Stomach pain
- Unusual dreams
- Changes in appetite
Sleeping pills can also be habit-forming and lead to sleepwalking, which brings an increased risk of falling and other accidents.
CBD May Help Treat Underlying Causes of Sleep Disorders
Sleepiness is one of the reported side effects of CBD. Some people get sleepy after taking a CBD product, which may help them get to sleep.
Beyond this side effect, what are the benefits of CBD for sleep disorders? After looking at a wide variety of studies and medical reviews, CBD may work best for treating some of the issues that keep people from getting sleep.
For example, stress, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnoea, PTSD nightmares, and chronic pain are common causes of sleepless nights. CBD may help address these issues, leading to better sleep.
One study examined how CBD may help treat sleep problems and anxiety. The study included 72 adult participants suffering from these common issues. After giving the patients 25 milligrams of CBD per day in capsule form for at least one month, 66.7% of patients experienced improved sleep.
A medical review published in 2017 looked specifically at the latest literature on CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for treating sleep disorders. The review assessed 67 different studies and clinical trials involving humans and animals.
Our article titled What is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has relevant information you may be interested in.
The authors of the review concluded that cannabinoids may help reduce the frequency of nightmares related to PTSD and the severity of sleep apnoea. However, as with most of these reviews, the authors point out that research on CBD remains limited and provides mixed results.
The mixed results include several studies that seem to indicate THC and CBD may reduce the quality of sleep. Another medical review found that small doses of CBD may even help keep you awake, providing a potential treatment for narcolepsy.
In the review, the authors highlight the wake-inducing benefits of CBD. Taking CBD may keep narcoleptics from randomly falling asleep outside of their normal sleep cycles.
Apparently, the cannabinoid system does not directly play a role in our sleep cycles but does play a role in the way we feel pain and deal with emotions.
Besides stress, anxiety, and chronic pain, nightmares related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also keep people awake at night.
THC and CBD can reduce REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the dream state.
During this period, we tend to toss and turn more so reducing REM may help some individuals stay asleep through the night. With less REM sleep, PTSD sufferers may also experience fewer night terrors and better sleep.
REM sleep is also a potential underlying cause of sleep problems for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Doctors refer to this problem as REM Behaviour Disorder (RBD). According to a case study from 2014, CBD may reduce the symptoms of RBD in Parkinson’s sufferers but the study only included four patients.
While reduced REM sleep may help those with PTSD or Parkinson’s, healthy adults need this sleep state to support cognitive function and the immune system.
What does all this research mean? CBD may treat a few of the issues that tend to lead to difficulty sleeping, such as stress, anxiety, chronic pain, PTSD nightmares, and rapid eye movement in Parkinson’s sufferers. People who suffer from any of these problems may experience improved sleep.
Unfortunately, none of the research indicates that CBD alone can cure sleep disorders or help restore a normal sleep cycle.
What Type of CBD Works Best for Sleep Disorders?
CBD comes in a variety of forms. You can take CBD in oils, creams, lotions, capsules, edibles, and vaping products. The type of CBD product determines how quickly the CBD reaches the body and how long the effects last.
We have an article on CBD Product Types that will be of interest.
For example, CBD vaping products and oils placed under the tongue provide faster results. However, taking a pill or consuming an edible allows the CBD to remain in the bloodstream longer.
Different CBD products also provide different bioavailability, which is the amount of CBD that reaches the bloodstream. The average CBD bioavailability depends on the delivery method:
- CBD vaping products — 40%
- CBD nasal products — 34% to 46%
- CBD tinctures and oils under the tongue — 35%
- CBD pills and edibles — 6% to 15%
The quality of the product also impacts the effectiveness of the CBD. Researchers at Penn State found that nearly 70% of CBD products feature incorrect labelling.
What Are the Side Effects of CBD for Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders?
Compared to the side effects of sleep aids, CBD seems to provide a safer alternative. Researchers point out that CBD is well tolerated by most individuals.
Reported side effects may even come from other ingredients instead of the CBD oil itself. For example, some people do not respond well to the carrier oil used in CBD oils.
The most commonly reported side effects of CBD include:
- Upset stomach
- Lower blood pressure
Some individuals also experience increased appetite or suppression of appetite. The results vary from person to person. However, the main risk appears to be CBD interactions with other drugs.
CBD may interfere with other medications that interact with the cannabinoid system. This includes mood stabilizers, antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood thinners, and various herbs.
Summary: Should People Take CBD for Sleep Disorders?
A lack of sleep increases the risk of a variety of health issues. Unfortunately, millions of people don’t get enough sleep and many never seek treatment.
The available treatments may not work anyway. Relaxation techniques and therapy may not address the underlying issue keeping you from getting enough rest.
Issues such as PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain, sleep apnoea, and restless leg syndrome are a few of the most common reasons why people struggle to sleep. Taking CBD for insomnia and other sleep disorders may help offer relief from some of these problems, leading to better sleep.
While CBD may not directly improve a person’s sleep cycle, it may help the person relax, reduce pain, limit REM sleep, and allow a full night’s rest.
CBD also seems to provide a safer alternative compared to sleep medications as it does not produce severe side effects. However, it is known to interact with a wide range of drugs.
Before taking CBD for sleep problems, it makes sense to review potential drug interactions or to discuss the problem with a physician.
Image Credits: Sleep study by MrSandman at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons