Can’t sleep? It’s not just you. More than 70 million people in the U.S. are currently suffering from insomnia or another sleep disorder—and CBD, or cannabidiol, is uniquely suited to be a treatment alternative for this common but debilitating condition.
Insomniacs are all too well-acquainted with the symptoms of this disorder, in which a person has chronic problems falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with insomnia have a hard time falling asleep at night, or wake up frequently during the night, unable to get back to sleep. They may be tired or groggy during the day, but still not able to get refreshing sleep; because of this fatigue they may have difficulty making decisions, be unable to concentrate, or have auto or other types of accidents due to daytime sleepiness.
People with chronic insomnia also increase their risk of developing other chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, depression, and other conditions.
The good news is that products containing CBD may be able to help you get a good night’s sleep, which for most adults is seven to eight hours per night, without the side effects or the risk of addiction that can come with prescription sleep aids such as Lunesta or Ambien.
Read on for more information on what CBD is, what formal research says about CBD, and how CBD can help with your insomnia.
What Is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural substance in the hemp plant, a subtype of the plant commonly known as Cannabis sativa. (Yes, as in marijuana.)
However, only one subtype of Cannabis sativa is rich in THC (tetrahydrocannibinol) and produces the “high” associated with marijuana. Rich in CBD with only trace, if any, amounts of THC, the hemp plant, a different subtype, can be beneficial to human health.
Unlike marijuana, which is usually smoked, CBD is typically available in oil form and is consumed, vaped, or applied topically to the skin.
(For a much more in-depth, science-heavy explanation of what CBD is—and what it isn’t—check out our article, “Is CBD Right for Me?”
What the Science Says About CBD for Insomnia
The body of formal research into CBD as an intervention for insomnia continues to expand.
One study, “Cannabis species and cannabinoid concentration preference among sleep-disturbed medicinal cannabis users” (2015, Addictive Behaviors) looked at the cannabis use habits of 163 adults purchasing cannabis products at a dispensary for medical purposes. Of that number, 81 were purchasing cannabis products for the purposes of insomnia management; those who were using it for this purpose chose strains with higher concentrations of CBD.
“Associations between sleep characteristics and the type of cannabis used were observed in this convenience sample of individuals using cannabis for the management of sleep disturbances,” the study’s authors note. “Controlled prospective studies are needed to better characterize the impact that specific components of cannabis have on sleep.”
Other CBD research has focused on animal subjects. In one study, in FEBS Letters in 2006, CBD was found to modulate sleep in rats. Another study looked at CBD’s effect on the sleep/wake cycle of rats, and found that the “systemic acute administration of CBD appears to increase total sleep time” (2013, Journal of Psychopharmacology).
Another study involving rats, published in 2012 in Neuropharmacology, found a connection between CBD and a decrease in stress-induced disruptions of REM (rapid eye movement) phases of sleep, although researchers note this effect might have more to do with CBD’s anti-anxiety properties than with specific sleep-related qualities. (REM sleep is not fully understood, but is known to be a critical part of healthy sleep.)
“CBD may block anxiety-induced REM sleep alteration via its anxiolytic effect, rather than via sleep regulation per se,” write the study’s authors.
Researchers also took a look at studies on cannabis and sleep up to 2014 in the 2017 research review, “Cannabis, Cannabinoids and Sleep: a Review of the Literature.”
“Preliminary research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia,” the researchers noted. “CBD may hold promise for REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness.”
“Cannabidiol in humans—the quest for therapeutic targets,” which appeared in Pharmaceuticals in 2012, reviewed more than 30 pieces of research in this area and found, among other outcomes, that “preliminary clinical trials suggest that high-dose oral CBD (150-600 mg/d) may exert a therapeutic effect for social anxiety disorder, insomnia and epilepsy, but also that it may cause mental sedation.”
Formal research on CBD is growing rapidly—a search for “CBD” on the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed.gov generates over 6,000 results—and showing therapeutic promise for the treatment of a variety of illnesses and health conditions, including insomnia.
How Does CBD Work on Insomnia?
The human body contains an endocannabinoid system, and the body naturally produces cannabinoids that bind to specific cannabinoid receptors in that system. CBD is believed to facilitate this action, which controls, among other things, your cycles of sleep and wakefulness.
Science does not fully understand exactly all of the processes that happen during sleep, but its importance to good physical and mental health is paramount. If you don’t sleep well, sleep enough, or get adequate REM sleep, both your body and mind will suffer.
“Oddly, the seemingly inactive state of sleep is actually a dynamic and critical process that helps us store memories, build immunity, repair tissue, regulate metabolism and blood pressure, control appetite and blood sugar, and process learning, along with a myriad of other physiological processes—all of which are regulated by the endocannabinoid system,” notes Project CBD.
CBD helps with both falling asleep and staying awake. In smaller doses, CBD’s mild stimulating effect can help keep insomniacs alert during the day, while larger doses at night can increase the amount of time spent sleeping, as well as improve the quality of that sleep.
Due to its usefulness as an anti-anxiety intervention, CBD can also help with insomnia that is brought on by excessive worry or stress, as it did in the 2012 Neuropharmacology study referenced above. If pain is exacerbating a person’s insomnia, CBD can provide natural pain relief as well, which will make sleep easier and more restful.
How Much CBD Will Help Me Sleep?
Before you try CBD for your insomnia, you need to figure out how much to take, and how to take it—for example, smoking or vaping a substance gets it into your bloodstream faster than ingesting it orally in oil format, but the effects will not last as long. For longer-term relief, choose oils or edibles.
There is no one CBD dose—and no one product—that is right for everyone. You may experience different effects with different products due to higher or lower concentrations of CBD; and it’s important to note that each person’s body processes CBD a bit differently. What works well for one person may have little effect on another.
Experts recommend starting with a small dose, such as one serving as defined by the product label, then seeing how it affects you and slowly increasing the dosage until you find a level that helps you sleep. Keep in mind that different products will contain differing concentrations of CBD, so a dose of one may provide more or less CBD than a dose of another; always thoroughly read the product’s label before taking it.
Project CBD, a California nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis research, recommends starting with a few small doses over the course of a few days, and adjusting the dose according to its effect. Also, the effects may vary based on the amount; for example, a small dose may have more of a stimulant effect, while a large dose has sedative effects. According to Project CBD’s “CBD User’s Manual,” CBD has no known negative side effects.
(Of course, never discontinue using any prescribed medication or try any natural alternative without first getting your physician’s OK. This type of medical advice is especially important if you have a chronic health condition, or if you are taking other prescription or over-the-counter medications that might interact with CBD, such as steroids, antihistamines, beta blockers, or several others.)
Go to Sleep!
If you are looking for a natural, drug-free way to address your insomnia or other sleep issues, acute or chronic, a product containing CBD may be your answer.