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Cannabis for Sleep Disorders – Can it Help?

cannabis for sleep disorders with a man suffering insomnia

Cannabis strains, mainly indicas, are known for their sedative effects. But what do we really know about the impact cannabis has on sleep? Let’s look at the research behind cannabis and sleep disorders to make the best choice and sleep better.

The most common sleep disorders are restless leg syndrome, insomnia, REM sleep behaviour disorder, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.

Insomnia is incredibly common, and approximately 30 percent of Canadian adults report being dissatisfied with their sleep. No wonder so many people are turning to cannabis as an alternative solution.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition where a person feels compelled to move or shake their legs due to an uncomfortable sensation. It mainly occurs in the evening and nighttime, which can impact a person’s ability to sleep.

Insomnia

Insomnia is defined by challenges falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia’s typically divided into two categories: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is short term and is often associated with a particular cause, such as jet lag. In comparison, chronic insomnia lasts a month or longer.

Insomnia can also be impacted by many outside factors. They include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, medication, stress, disorders such as anxiety and depression, and an unpleasant or uncomfortable sleeping environment. If any of these apply to you, consider if anything can be done to mitigate these factors.

REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder

REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD) occurs when a person doesn’t experience the sleep paralysis associated with REM sleep and, as a result, acts out their dreams. These actions can range from simple to dramatic or even violent movements, which can be dangerous to the person with the disorder and anyone they share a bed with.

While we will mostly be discussing insomnia here, we will also touch on RLS and RBD and how cannabis can help.

Cannabis for Sleep Disorders – Can it Improve Insomnia?

Many adults are getting less sleep and struggling to fall asleep as a result of stress and anxiety. So, regardless of whether or not cannabis actually impacts sleep, consuming cannabis after work can reduce anxiety and causes soothing effects for a stressed-out mind.

Research supports the use of cannabis for sleep disorders.

A 2011 study found that cannabis consumption reduced the time it took to fall asleep regardless of whether or not the person previously experienced sleep challenges. Those who didn’t have regular trouble falling asleep fell asleep approximately 15 minutes faster after consuming cannabis. In comparison, those who did experience regular sleep challenges fell asleep roughly 30 minutes faster.

While THC does have sedating effects that can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, it can also impact how long a person is in REM sleep.

THC and REM Sleep

REM sleep is the most restorative sleep cycle and is essential for restful sleep long term. So, long-term use of cannabis can have negative impacts on the sleep cycle.

Learn more about REM sleep and the sleep cycles.

There are instances where reduced REM sleep can be helpful. Since dreaming mostly occurs during the REM cycle, reduced REM sleep can impact those with trauma dreams associated with PTSD and those suffering from RBD.

Is CBD More Effective Long Term?

Preliminary research suggests that CBD has similar sedating effects, and it doesn’t impact REM sleep or the sleep-wake cycle.

So, it’s recommended by specialists, like Dr. Tishler, to consume cannabis products with no more than 20% THC to avoid interrupts to the sleep cycle and prevent grogginess. Some even recommend sticking to CBD only before bed.

Sativa Vs Indica

Most people gravitate towards indica or indica-dominant hybrid strains due to the relaxing and sedating effects typically associated with it. However, paying attention to cannabinoid content and terpenes seems to be more effective in determining the impact on sleep.

Cannabis and Other Sleep Disorders

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that CBD can improve symptoms related to restless leg syndrome (RLS). And even though RLS and cannabis haven’t been researched extensively, evidence suggests these impacts may result from impacted levels of dopamine.

Preliminary evidence supports these findings from a 2020 study. Still, more in-depth clinical trials are necessary to understand the mechanisms fully.

There is no clinical evidence that cannabis improves movement related to REM sleep behaviour disorder. However, participants in this 2021 study noted a subjective improvement in sleep after consuming 300mg of CBD. Again, more research is necessary to understand how cannabis impacts symptoms related to RBD and sleep.

Should I Consume Cannabis for Sleep?

While cannabis can positively impact sleep in the short term, its long-term use can disrupt a person’s sleep cycle. So, regular users may want to consider a few things:

  • Consume cannabis with the highest THC earlier in the day
  • Consume cannabis products with less than 20% THC in the evening
  • Consume only CBD before bed

Check out our amazing CBD products for sleep.

Alternatives to Cannabis for Sleep Disorders

Some people take melatonin as a sleep remedy. While it is a natural hormone that increases sleepiness, it is also not recommended to take for long periods as it can impact the body’s natural ability to produce melatonin.

Doctors and sleep specialists recommend using good sleep hygiene to increase the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep.

How to practise good sleep hygiene? Suppose you need to improve more than one of these areas. In that case, we recommend starting by improving one at a time to increase the likelihood of success and not become overwhelmed with big changes.

Sleep hygiene principles:

  • Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule. Have a regular sleep and wake-up time, including on weekends. Prioritize sleep even when you have work deadlines or other obligations (your brain will thank you). And keep naps to a minimum – if you feel like you need a rest to increase energy, keep it short and in the early afternoon.
  • Follow a Nightly Routine. Keep a consistent nighttime routine that helps promote relaxation. Start 30 minutes before bedtime and include dimming the lights and unplugging from screens that impact the natural production of melatonin and encourage alertness. Some relaxation habits may consist of reading, stretching, light music, breathing exercises, etc.
  • Daily Healthy Habits. Move your body, eat healthily, expose yourself to daylight (especially first thing in the morning), limit caffeine to the morning, don’t smoke, and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Comfortable Sleep Environment. A comfortable sleep environment has a significant impact on sleep. Ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow, block out light, consider the room temperature (slightly cool is typically ideal), and reduce noise. You may also want to consider calming scents such as lavender.

It can also be helpful to restrict bed activities to sleep and sex so your brain associates bed with sleep. So, if you’re a nighttime reader, for example, do this before getting into bed.

Do you use cannabis for a sleep disorder? Let us know down below!

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