Cannabidiol (CBD) is growing in popularity as a natural sleep aid. A natural, non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis plants, CBD is increasingly preferred over prescription medications.
Research suggests that CBD can aid your sleep both directly, by making you feel drowsy, and indirectly, by addressing the root causes of insomnia and other sleep problems.
How does it work and is it safe? How much CBD should you take for sleep, and what’s the best way to take it?
Here’s what the research says about using CBD for supporting your nighttime rest.
Most sleep problems are associated with insomnia — difficulty falling and staying asleep — but there are dozens of other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.
CBD may be able to improve your sleep on two fronts. On one hand, there’s evidence that high doses of CBD cause sedation. This was demonstrated by a study where people who took a 160 mg dose of pure CBD slept longer.
The truly promising part about CBD, however, is that it can address the underlying causes of sleeping problems.
Research on CBD and Sleep
Health experts note that poor sleep can be caused or made worse by anxiety, depression, stress, chronic pain, and certain disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Research shows that CBD can help with many of these symptoms and conditions, improving insomnia and other associated sleep issues as a result.
There’s particularly strong evidence for CBD’s positive effects on anxiety, which is one of the most common causes of insomnia.
An even more relevant study was done in 72 people with anxiety and poor sleep, who were given 25-175 mg doses of CBD capsules daily. During the first month, CBD improved anxiety in 79.2 per cent of the participants and sleep in 66.7 per cent, although sleep scores fluctuated for the rest of the study.
Chronic pain is another cause of poor sleep. Multiple studies have reported that CBD and other cannabinoids may have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that may be able to help.
CBD can also help with sleep problems related to PTSD. In one study of 21 adults with the condition, 38 per cent reported improved sleep after taking CBD.
Meanwhile, a case series of four Parkinson’s disease sufferers with REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD), a condition where people act out vivid dreams during the REM stage of sleep, found that CBD significantly improved the disorder.
There’s also a case report of a ten-year-old girl who improved her PTSD-related insomnia with CBD oil.
Similarly, another case report mentioned a woman with restless leg syndrome, a condition that causes an urge to move your legs, who improved her sleep by taking CBD oil.
Finally, CBD might also help with sleep difficulties caused by depression. Although human studies are lacking, multiple investigations in animals have shown that CBD may have antidepressant effects.
The research makes it clear that CBD can help with insomnia and other sleep problems, but how exactly does it work?
One way is interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Composed of endocannabinoids made by the body, special enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2), the ECS helps maintain a healthy state of balance called homeostasis.
As part of this role, researchers believe that the ECS regulates your sleep cycle, helping you get good quality sleep. One convincing piece of evidence is that your body’s levels of endocannabinoids seem to vary in relation to sleep.
For example, one study of healthy adults found that the endocannabinoid anandamide was three times higher when people were waking up versus going to sleep.
Similar findings have been reported in animal studies, where levels of both endocannabinoids and the enzymes that control them varied between the dark and light parts of the day.
CBD can influence the ECS by reducing the effects of an enzyme that breaks anandamide, prolonging its beneficial effects.
Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that CBD can affect other receptors that regulate your sleep:
- CBD can interact with your serotonin receptors, which are involved in regulating anxiety, mood, and other processes
- CBD may activate receptors of GABA, your brain’s main calming, anxiety-relieving chemical
How to Use CBD for Sleep
You can take CBD in different ways to enhance your sleep. The three most common, effective options are to apply it under the tongue (CBD oil), ingest it (as capsules, edibles, or beverages), or vape it.
CBD oil is the most popular way to use CBD for better sleep and other potential benefits. It’s applied sublingually (under the tongue), which enhances CBD’s absorption by allowing it to bypass the digestive system.
CBD oil starts to work about 10-30 minutes after you take it, so it’s best to use it about 30 minutes before you’re going to sleep. Its effects last for about 4-6 hours, which means it’ll stay active for most of the time you’re in bed.
Many people prefer to take CBD in the form of CBD gummies, capsules, tea, and other ingestible products. These types of oral CBD have the advantages of easy use, pleasant taste, precise dosing, and long-lasting effects.
However, oral CBD is not as effective as CBD oil because it has to be processed by the digestive system before absorption. That’s also why its effects can take over an hour to be felt.
You should take oral CBD products about 30 minutes before going to sleep if you haven’t eaten recently, and about an hour if you had a meal.
The last major way of taking CBD for sleep is to vape it. Vaping is the increasingly popular, safer alternative to smoking where you inhale a vapour that contains active ingredients into your lungs.
When you vape CBD, its effects are instant and last for about 1-2 hours. This makes vaping the best administration method for people who prefer immediate effects. As such, you can vape CBD right before going to sleep.
CBD Dosage for Sleep
Unfortunately, there’s no “right” dosage of CBD for sleep or any other health application. The ideal amount of CBD differs between individuals due to factors such as weight, unique body chemistry, age, the severity of your issues, and the type of CBD product you’re taking.
That’s why health experts typically recommend the “start low and go slow” approach where you begin with a small amount of CBD and slowly raise it over time until you find the optimal dosage.
For CBD, 10-15 mg is a good starting point. If you don’t notice any effects after a few hours, you can start to incrementally raise the CBD dosage over the next few days or weeks until you settle on the amount that provides the desired relief.
It also helps to know that most people take anywhere from 20 mg to 120 mg of CBD per day in one or two doses, although the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that you limit your daily CBD intake to 70 mg.
Safety and Side Effects of CBD
CBD is a safe, natural substance and the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers it to be well-tolerated and have a good safety profile.
While some human studies have found that CBD can cause side effects, they were mostly mild in nature, and include:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Changes in appetite or weight
Also, it should be noted that these side effects were reported by studies using high doses of pure CBD, so the average person is unlikely to experience them.
We can also see that CBD can make you feel drowsy, which isn’t surprising since we know that it can act as a sedative at higher doses.
CBD is a safe, natural, non-intoxicating substance that can improve your sleep in multiple ways.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of CBD is that it can address the underlying causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders, such as anxiety, stress, and pain, rather than just improving their symptoms.
Besides, it lacks the serious side effects of many common prescription sleeping pills, which can cause daytime sleepiness and even make you dependent on the drug.
Still, it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying CBD, especially if you’re already taking other medications.