Adequate sleep is essential to the human body, just as much as it needs food and oxygen to thrive. During sleep, the body heals itself and restores balance and the brain creates new connections and strengthens memory. During major changes to an established routine or an increase in life stressors of any kind, sleep is even more essential and sometimes more difficult to come by.
The impact of losing even a few hours of sleep in a night can affect your mood and ability to focus, making you less available for important activities and relationships in your life. Over time, the impact of chronic sleeplessness can become even more pronounced, negatively affecting short term and long term memory, the immune system, cognition, mood stability, and even your libido.
If you aren’t getting the hours of sleep that you need to feel healthy or your sleep-wake cycle is a little off track, there is scientific evidence that CBD may help.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the primary cannabinoids found in cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another cannabinoid, CBD doesn’t contribute to any intoxicating effects. According to a Gallup poll, 14% of Americans say they use CBD. Most commonly, for pain (40%), anxiety (20%), and insomnia (11%). User experience has now been backed up by research suggesting that CBD may be useful for improving sleep and reducing symptoms of sleep disorders such as insomnia.
How can CBD help your sleep?
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids (cannabinoid compounds that are produced by your own body) that regulate biological functions such as appetite, pain, mood, and sleep. Research shows that endocannabinoid signaling promotes sleep and has a role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
What science says about CBD and Sleep
Scientific evidence is mounting that CBD has a positive effect on sleep, in both human and animal studies.
> A 2019 study showed that CBD reduced anxiety scores by 79.2% and improved sleep scores in the first month by 66.7% in people who experience anxiety disorders.
> A 2015 case study reported that just 18 – 24 mg of CBD soothed anxiety in a patient and restored regular sleep patterns.
> In one 2018 study that looked at CBD use in children with autism, CBD was found to be associated with reduced irritability, anxiety, sleep problems, and hyperactivity symptoms in up to 71% of the children studied.
> A 2014 randomized controlled trial showed that CBD reduced pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo when administered to 128 patients with neuropathic pain.
How to use CBD for sleep
There are no established guidelines on how to use CBD for sleep, but over time and with more scientific study, healthcare practitioners may be able to provide more prescriptive advice. Commonly, people use CBD around bedtime to improve sleep. The form of CBD that you use will help determine how long before bed you should take it. CBD tinctures and other methods of sublingual CBD are absorbed and take effect quickly (in about 20 minutes). However, CBD passing through the digestive tract, like capsules or edibles, may take up to an hour to produce noticeable effects. If you are working on improving your sleep, it is important to choose CBD products that do not contain added sugars, caffeine, or other stimulants. CBD Topicals with relaxing essential oils are a great option for winding down the body and mind. Full-spectrum CBD capsules are a favorite for simple and predictable CBD dosing.
How much CBD should I take to sleep better?
There are no standard guidelines on how much CBD to take for sleep. If your health care practitioner has not provided a recommendation for dosing, it’s best to start with a low dose and gradually increase it to see how it affects your sleep. Many people find that using CBD consistently improves results. Scientific research has shown that higher doses of CBD per day reduces the amount of time it takes to get to sleep. It also appeared to reduce the number of times a user woke up at night.
Before using CBD for sleep, it may be wise to consult with your doctor, especially if you are taking other medications.
CBD alone may not be a cure-all or a quick fix, and a holistic approach to improving your sleep and addressing the root causes of restlessness may yield the best long-term results.
Some additional tips for a better night’s sleep:
1) Set a consistent schedule for yourself and find a bedtime ritual that you love
From the time that you commit to getting out of bed in the morning, to when you begin your bedtime rituals at night, following a consistent sleep/wake schedule and winding down well before bedtime is one of the best ways to get your sleep cycle on track. “Our body craves routine and likes to know what’s coming,” says Dr. Epstein, co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep.
A bedtime ritual is a tried-and-true way to support healthier sleeping habits for people of all ages. Whether it’s reading a book (or reading a story to a little one in your life), taking a warm bath, rubbing in a relaxing scented CBD body balm, or something as simple as changing into pajamas and brushing your teeth, consistent habits will help signal to your body and brain that it is time to unwind. The more that we establish these patterns, the stronger the association becomes.
Choosing rituals that are sustainable (which might mean quick and simple) or especially enjoyable will help to set you up for success in establishing and keeping these healthy habits.
2) Help your body wind down with relaxation exercises
Even if you only have a few minutes to yourself prior to hitting the pillow, simple things like deep breathing, slow and gentle stretching, or a progressive relaxation exercise can help. A Body Scan meditation during which you bring attention to your body, noticing different sensations, as you mentally scan down from head to toe, can be incredibly helpful for allowing the day to melt away.
3) Impose a digital curfew and unplug the blue light
We are more connected to our devices than ever, and sometimes tuning in feels like the best way to unwind after a long day of being attentive to others and the world around you. Exposure to the blue light emitted from our smartphones, tablets, and televisions can sabotage your wind down routine. Blue light has a short wavelength that suppresses levels of melatonin more than other wavelengths do. Normally, the pineal gland begins to release melatonin a couple of hours before bedtime, signaling to our body that it is time to sleep. When our evenings are filled with screen time, blue light can trick our brains into thinking that it is daytime, making us take longer to fall asleep and reducing REM sleep, which means you wake up feeling sleepier–even after a full 8 hours of shuteye.
Try turning off the television and other digital devices at least 60-90 minutes before bed for a week and see how your sleep is impacted!
4) Figure out what is stealing your sleep
Are any habits interfering with your sleep or feeding your anxiety? One of the biggest sleep disruptors is caffeine. This can be tough to moderate, especially if you use caffeine to get you going in the morning or for an added boost during the day. Caffeine’s effects can last about six hours for the average healthy adult, which means you might be paying for that cup of joe with hours of lost sleep at night. Remember that tea and chocolate both contain caffeine, too.
Foods that offer natural sugars, like fruit, or are rich in B vitamins may offer that boost of afternoon energy so you can avoid caffeine late in the day. Hydration and exercises to increase blood flow and oxygen are also sustainable ways to boost your energy, without stealing your sleep.
5) Write down your worries or your to-dos
Stephanie Silberman, author of The Insomnia Workbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Sleep You Need, suggests spending 10 to 15 minutes a day writing down “what’s on your mind at an earlier time and what you’re going to do about it.” Even if you don’t know exactly how you are going to take action with the things on your list, it can be helpful to get it out of your head so that you can push pause on the thoughts that are keeping you awake at night.
To kick-start a free-writing exercise, Silberman suggests asking yourself the question, “What are the things that come to my mind when I’m lying in bed at night?” If worrying thoughts come up, you can “mentally check it off,” and either say to yourself “I know that can be tackled later,” or “I’m already dealing with it,” both of which can help bring a sense of relief and lessen the urgency in the moment.
6) Incorporate helpful sleep supplements
It is best to check with your healthcare provider before incorporating new supplements into your daily routine.
7) Go for morning walks
The exposure to natural sunlight in the morning can reset your circadian rhythm after a sleepless night. It also helps an infant develop a regular sleep-wake cycle. If you can’t get out for a walk in the morning, simply sitting on your porch in the sunshine or opening up your curtains immediately upon rising will help signal your brain and body to start the processes that produce more wakeful energy and help reinforce a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
8) Be gentle with yourself
Life may be extra chaotic for many people right now, and especially for parents juggling homeschooling and working from home. It can be tough to create new routines when your sense of normalcy has been disrupted and difficulty sleeping is a common reaction to an increase in stress and anxiety. Adding more to-dos and “I shoulds” to your list might not be an approach that yields more relaxation; sometimes a gentle reminder to self that you are doing the best you can is a powerful way to soothe those nagging, anxious feelings before laying down to sleep.