Cannabis and Sleep 101: Your Questions Answered
Answered on this page:
- How does cannabis affect duration and quality of sleep?
- Why does cannabis affect our sleep patterns?
- What effect does cannabis have on our dreams?
- How can you choose a cannabis strain to help with insomnia?
Cannabis strains come in all different varieties, some that provide energy and a sense of euphoria, and others that are more mellowing – almost sedative in their properties. These sedative characteristics have been used to treat insomnia for a long time, with some great results. Many people who have trouble sleeping have found that ingesting cannabis before bedtime can lead to longer sleep times and higher quality sleep, but how exactly does the mechanism work and what else do we know about cannabis and its effects on our sleep cycles?
This article talks about some of the most important scientific findings about cannabis and sleep, including how cannabis can affect duration and quality of sleep, what it does to sleep patterns, and how it affects our ability to experience and recall dreams.
Why Cannabis Makes You Sleepy
Up to 10% of Canadians are experiencing a disorder related to their sleep, be it sleep apnea, insomnia, or one of several other conditions that affect the quality time we spend in bed. Sleep issues are something of a hidden epidemic – with the hustle and bustle of daily life, many go unreported, and that’s just one reason that so many people are dependent on coffees to get them through the day.
Sleep insufficiency is a real killer though – those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, reduced productivity and quality of life, and even obesity and cancer. Besides the powerful prescription sleep aids that are available on the market today, millions of people have turned to natural remedies like cannabis to help them get more sleep.
A 1973 study confirmed that cannabis could be a suitable alternative to pharmaceuticals when it comes to treating chronic insomnia. THC was found to reduce the average amount of time that it takes someone with insomnia to fall asleep, and another study that looked at the general population found that THC users take less time to fall asleep. Some scientists even suspect that terpenes, the aromatic cannabinoids that give cannabis its unique flavors and smells, may be doing much of the work when it comes to cannabis helping with sleep. The terpenes found in lavender and chamomile both promote sleep, and when combined with cannabis can produce the double-punch that finally leaves you down for the count.
The terpene Myrcene, commonly found in cannabis and associated with a sweet, fruity smell something like mango may also play a strong role in promoting sleep. In a 2002 study, researchers treated mice with doses of myrcene along with two other terpene compounds to find out if the myrcene would help them sleep for longer. The mice that were given the treatment slept for an average of 2.6 times longer than untreated mice, and it was also found that myrcene seemed to relax their motor function.
Overall, the evidence is clear that THC and other terpenes, especially myrcene, linalool and limenone, work together to provide a sedative effect that is good for treating insomnia.
How Does Cannabis Affect Sleep Cycles?
Research about cannabis and sleep has been active since the 1970s, but inconsistency in research methods has made it difficult for scientists to draw consistent conclusions about how cannabis affects sleep cycles. In cannabis sleep studies, it has been observed consistently that folks who use cannabis before bedtime fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for longer, making it a viable treatment for insomnia.
Some subjects also experienced slow-wave sleep for longer periods while using cannabis – that’s the deepest stage of sleep where our bodies are working to recover optimally by digesting any food in our stomachs and engaging in rejuvenating cell repair. However, once nightly cannabis use stops, users often experienced decreased sleep quality during the withdrawal period. Still, in individuals who suffer from PTSD of chronic pain, use of cannabis for sleep is very common, and up to 65% of former cannabis users return to the drug because of difficulty sleeping.
How Does Cannabis Influence our Dreams?
Dreams are one of the great mysteries of human life – for a long time, scientists have puzzled over what they are, why they happen and what they represent – here’s what we know so far.
Our sleep is divided into cycles where our brains behave slightly differently, and one of the most important cycles is known as REM sleep. REM sleep is the phase of sleep where our brains are most active, and this activity serves important functions in our lives as humans. During REM sleep, our brains relive experiences that we have had and come to terms with them, we process emotions that we felt during the day along with all kinds of psychological influences we have been exposed to. REM sleep is also a time for our brain to anticipate things that will happen in the future and plan how we’ll react to them.
Cannabis interferes with the REM cycle, meaning that when cannabis users wake up they are less likely to remember what they were dreaming while asleep. This may sound like a bad thing, but it really isn’t. For example, people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder may experience negative dreams that they don’t want to experience consciously – cannabis can suppress the REM cycle and prevent the sufferer from becoming conscious of these dreams.
Many professional MMA fighters use cannabis to treat chronic pain, but fighters suffering from nerves in the lead-up to a fight can also use cannabis before bed to avoid disturbing dreams that may reflect their ideas about the upcoming bout.
At the end of the day, cannabis can do a lot to influence our sleep cycles and the way we experience dreams. A dose of cannabis before bed can help you sleep longer and more peacefully, and this is probably because of the terpenes. Fruity indicas are the best type of strain for inducing sleep and fighting insomnia. Cannabis also suppresses REM sleep, a useful quality for users looking to suppress night terrors and enjoy a peaceful night of rest.