Can CBD fix our sleep crisis? Americans are exhausted. Sacrificing sleep for success (or often just to make ends meet) is putting millions at risk every day from the damaging effects of chronic and acute diseases, accidents, and depression.
Lack of sleep doesn’t just affect our own personal lives, either. We all bear the brunt of our chronic sleep crises, at least economically speaking. According to a report by the Rand Corporation, sleep deprivation costs around $411 billion a year in employee low productivity, time off, and healthcare related costs.
The sleep aid market is booming as consumers reach for over-the-counter and prescription meds to the tune of more than $100 billion globally by 2023. And, naturally, so is the caffeine and energy product market. “Superfoods,” tonics, and elixirs all purporting to give us that “boost” we need are directly related to our chronic lack of sleep.
And it’s not just any old sleep, either. Quality sleep matters, too — if you’ve ever camped out in a forest, slept in a harmonious jungle, or even over a calm ocean, you know the difference between the noises and disturbances there versus the noise, light, and air pollution in our urban dwellings that can disrupt our sleep cycles.
According to Eileen Konieczny, RN and the co-author of the upcoming book, Healing with CBD: How Cannabidiol Can Transform Your Health Without the High (Ulysses Press, September 18, 2018), CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, may be the magic pill when it comes to sleep issues.
“Because CBD has effective anti-anxiety and calming effects, the experience of better sleep with CBD is not because CBD is causing drowsiness, but rather because the anxiety relief and relaxation it provides allows for better quality of rest,” says Konieczny. “That being said, because of its biphasic properties, CBD can have both alerting effects at low to medium doses and more sedating and sleep-producing effects at high doses. Low to moderate doses of CBD that create an alerting effect might be helpful for narcoleptics, or people suffering from excessive sleepiness during the day. In one insomnia study, high doses (160 milligrams) of CBD were shown to improve the length and quality of sleep.”
But according to Mitchell Colbert, journalist and cannabis researcher, when it comes to sleep, the research is very mixed when it comes to CBD.
“It is known that CBD can inhibit adenosine reuptake, which promotes sleep, but many studies have also shown it to be a ‘wake-promoting agent,’” says Colbert. He also notes its biphasic effects, with a low dose “producing one outcome and a higher dose producing a dramatically different one.”
Mitchell says THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that does get you high, has a much greater impact on consumer choice in sleep aid. But part of that may be that CBD is relatively new to the market versus marijuana and THC, which is now legal for medical and recreational use in a growing number of states.
Mitchell also notes the cannabinoid CBN, which is what THC will break down into “from exposure to the air, sunlight, heat, or the passage of time.”
According to the cannabis testing lab Steep Hill, “Of all the cannabinoids, CBN appears to be the most sedative.”
When it comes to CBD and sleep, like with most things, the sweet spot may lie in what your issue is.
For people struggling with anxiety and stress that can lead to tossing and turning or otherwise sleepless nights, CBD appears to hold the greatest benefit. A growing number of Americans suffer from stress-related sleep disorders such as insomnia. That can be a self-perpetuating cycle of stress keeping you awake, being awake keeping you stressed.
Many people turn to Melatonin to alleviate their sleep issues. And now CBD and Melatonin are becoming a common pair.
CBD has shown significant abilities to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. If you’re less stressed out about the inbox waiting for you in the morning, you’re likely to achieve a more restful night.
Sufferers of chronic pain may experience benefits while using CBD, as well. If sleep is made more difficult through acute or chronic injuries, CBD could help with both the pain relief itself and the anxiety surrounding the injury.
It has also shown the ability to reduce the effects of sleep apnea, a chronic cycle of interrupted breathing that can thwart the natural sleep cycles. Allison Barfield, content manager for Aeroflow Healthcare, which makes CBD products, says a combo of THC and CBD were used to reduce the effects of apneas or events when breathing rapidly stops during sleep, rats got better sleep. “Their upper airway muscles were stimulated to pull in longer and deeper breaths while asleep. This is major news for those with obstructive sleep apnea, because CBD may naturally treat their disorder.”
Cannabis website Sticky Monkey sees most of its customer sales go toward anxiety relief.
“CBD not only has an effect on anxiety but many other related issues such as panic disorder and PTSD,” says site owner Robert Graham. “There have been studies recently using CBD on those in the military that have experienced traumatic events. Additional studies have been done showing promising, positive effects in pediatric anxiety and insomnia.”
Graham says a growing number of customers are inquiring about CBD’s ability to manage sleep issues as well anxiety.
“Those that have tried CBD for these purposes have had great success in changing their mood and sleep issues, including myself,” he notes.
Doctors are slowly becoming more educated both on the sleep crisis and the alternatives to sleep drugs like Ambien, which can have devastating and even deadly side effects. While most sleep issues are acute and typically go away on their own, some sleep-related issues can be signs of more serious conditions. Identifying the root cause of your sleep issue is also critical. Checking in with your doctor before starting on a CBD (or any other) product is recommended.