Sleep. It’s something that all of us do, and is an integral part of our lives and overall health.
But for many people, it’s also something that plagues them. Sleep issues are some of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in the world, with health authorities estimating that between 35-40% of the US population suffers from them annually. Whether it’s the occasional bout of insomnia or a full-blown chronic condition, a lack of rest is something that most of us will deal with at some point in our lives.
What many people don’t realize is just how devastating the results can be. Getting a good night sleep is absolutely critical to maintaining optimal health. A lack of sleep doesn’t just make you feel groggy the next day, but has the potential to affect aspects of your life you probably would never even think about. From psychological disorders to obesity to diabetes, sleep has huge downstream effects on your physiology.
Fortunately, while the consequences of not sleeping enough may sound scary, the reverse is also true – getting a GOOD night sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health. From improved cognition to increased focus and discipline to lowered risk of disease, optimizing your sleep is almost like having a superpower.
And it’s becoming an increasingly rare one. Not only are sleep disorders incredibly prevalent, they’re also on the rise, with stress, poor diet, and overuse of technology all playing a major role.
The good news is this – many of these disorders and issues can absolutely be corrected.
Many people are tempted to go the “pharmaceutical route” when insomnia rears its ugly head. But if you’re thinking that a quick trip to the pharmacy and a few pills is all you need to make this problem go away, think again. Many of these drugs (benzodiazepines for example) may help knock you out at the end of the day, but they also come with a ton of nasty side-effects.
Which brings us to the world of natural alternatives. If you’ve been down the road of trying to treat your sleep issues without harmful prescription drugs, you’re likely aware that cannabis has been showing a lot of promise in helping to correct, improve and restore sleep – particularly when it comes to CBD.
The cannabis revolution that’s been sweeping through North America has created a profound change in how people view pot. Unfortunately, there’s still a ton of confusion. A lot of the stigma and misinformation continues to live on, and much of the research on the medicinal and health benefits is still in its infancy.
It also doesn’t help that much of the information available online is scattered, nonspecific, and often contradictory.
So, if you’re suffering from poor sleep (or you just want to sleep better) and you’re looking to start using CBD, this is for you. This guide will cover everything you ever wanted to know – from an overview of the distinction between CBD and “marijuana” for complete newbies, to the latest scientific research, to dosing recommendations – by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll have everything you need to get started.
If you’re reading this, you may be at least briefly familiar with the topic of CBD – what it is, how it works, and how it’s fundamentally different to what we colloquially refer to as marijuana.
For many who are new to this, however, understanding the distinction isn’t so simple.
So, here’s the abbreviated version – CBD is an acronym (standing for cannabidiol), and it refers to a specific type of cannabinoid (the natural chemical compounds found within the cannabis plant).
Basically, it works like this – your body comes equipped with an intricate network known as the endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for a number of functions, but one of the main ways in which it operates is by promoting homeostasis, helping to regulate the body’s other unique systems.
The endocannabinoid system, which spreads all throughout the body and brain, has a number of receptors. Anytime you use the cannabis plant, the cannabinoids act on these receptors, producing a number of profound physiological and psychological effects.
Now, here’s where the distinction comes in – each cannabinoid is unique, and works on the endocannabinoid receptors in different ways. To date, researchers have identified about 113 different cannabinoids, with two in particular – THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol) and CBD – being the most thoroughly studied.
With that said, it’s worth repeating that cannabis research is still a young field, and we’ve only really hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these compounds and how they interact with the body (and each other).
CBD vs THC
The topic of cannabinoids is vastly complex, but for the purposes of this article, what you need to understand is this – while they’re both found in the same plant, CBD and THC are fundamentally different, and impact the body in different ways.
THC produces a psychoactive effect in the brain. If you’ve ever smoked pot and gotten “high”, this is (basically) what’s happening – THC binds to the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. It mimics the natural neurotransmitter of anandamide, which is associated with feelings of euphoria.
CBD is a bit different. It’s similar in that it binds to receptors, however, its considered a “non-psychoactive” compound. It doesn’t produce any of the effects associated with the high of THC. In fact, in the cannabis flower it actually works to counteract the high and providing some balance.
However, just because CBD is non-psychoactive doesn’t mean that it’s not working on the brain – it just means that, taken by itself (usually in the form of oil), it’s non-psychoactive (one of its major appeals for many people). Instead, it works on the receptors in other ways.
CBD has been shown to produce a number of “calming” effects in the brain and body. It does this by activating adenosine receptors, which among other functions (cardiovascular, blood flow, etc) help regulate glutamate and dopamine in the brain, making CBD an optimal treatment for a variety of health related issues.
One of the most common misconceptions about cannabis is the idea that CBD is the part of the plant with “health benefits”, while THC is simply the fun part that gets you stoned. In reality, it’s not that simple. Because not only do they both have therapeutic benefits, but they often work in conjunction with each other.
We’ll be covering the role that THC plays in the second part of this article. For now, let’s focus on the physiology of CBD and sleep, and why it’s so important.
How CBD Oil Helps With Sleep
Given how extensive the endocannabinoid system is, it’s not surprising that cannabis can work on the body in a number of ways. A simple google search for “CBD oil benefits” will bring up thousands of results, covering everything from inflammation to acne.
For the purposes of this article, we will (obviously) be focusing on sleep in particular, and the influence that CBD has on it.
Sleep is a function of the central nervous system, and is regulated in a number of ways. One of the key regulators is the use of neurotransmitters. These are endogenous chemicals that allow for communications between neurons (the basic working units of the brain) and your muscle cells. Many of these neurotransmitters are involved in the process of sleep, and a number of them receive their cues from circadian rhythms.
You’ve likely, at some point in your life, heard of circadian rhythms, but for those unfamiliar (or a little confused), its basically your body’s “internal clock”. Circadian rhythms are responsible for regulating the sleep and wake cycles, influencing what time you wake up, fall asleep, and feel either energized or drowsy.
Neurotransmitters are a big part of what drives sleep. They work on neurons in the “sleep-promoting” areas of the brain, as well as sending inhibiting signals to the “alerting” portion of the brain. There are a whole host of neurotransmitters involved in the sleep cycle, including GABA, serotonin and dopamine, and many of them operate in conjunction with each other.
In fact, the manipulation of these chemicals is part of how many conventional sleep aids do their job. Antihistamines, for example, work in part by blocking acetylcholine, which is (among other things) responsible for helping to activate the alerting portion of the brain.
And like many of these sleep aids, CBD also works on neurotransmitters, but in a slightly different way.
When it comes to insomnia, there are a number of factors which could be contributing to your lack of sleep. One of the major culprits is anxiety, particularly in the evening (if you’ve ever laid awake at 3:00am with racing thoughts, you can probably relate to this). CBD helps fight this by encouraging the activity of GABA receptors. As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA promotes relaxation, calms the racing thoughts and helps relieve nighttime anxiety.
CBD also works on the body’s serotonin receptors. Serotonin is responsible for a number of functions, and is involved in both ends of the sleep-wake cycle. During the early parts of the day, serotonin helps trigger wakefulness, while in the evening it promotes relaxation.
How Effective Is CBD For Sleep?
We’ve mentioned it before in this article, but it’s worth repeating again – the research into cannabis in general (and CBD in particular) is still in its infancy. Reaching a definitive conclusion on the efficacy of any treatment takes years of time and research.
Complicating this research is the sheer quantity of conditions it has the potential to treat. Scientists have for years been interested in CBD – the issue is getting enough data together on a specific condition in order to evaluate how effective it is.
With all of that said, the research conducted so far on CBD and its connection to sleep has been very positive.
Let’s start with the latest research – a 2018 study examined the effects of various cannabinoids (including CBD and THC) on insomnia. Collecting data from more than 400 users, and focusing specifically on symptom relief from insomnia in the participants, researchers measured not only the amount of cannabis used, but also the specific strain and cannabinoid content.
The result of the study found that strains higher in CBD were more effective in reducing symptoms than those higher in THC.
This is, of course, just one study (and also one that studied cannabis in general as opposed to CBD oil specifically). However, previous research has produced similar results.
Where CBD really shines in the literature is its efficacy in managing anxiety (a common culprit of insomniacs everywhere). In one of the most recent pieces of research, a team of Brazilian researchers analyzed and measured the anxiety suppressing effects of CBD (at varying dosages) on a number of patients following simulated public speaking. The researchers concluded that CBD had a measurable effect on anxiety, particularly at the mid dosage level (around 300 mg).
Alright, so you’re sold on using CBD oil for sleep – you’ve had a look at the research and you’re ready to give it a shot.
Unfortunately, as you may have already figured out, it’s not quite as simple as it looks. With everything on the market, it can be hard enough just choosing the right oil, much less figuring out things like dosage and delivery method.
How To Choose The Right CBD Product
The first step in all of this is fairly obvious – choosing an oil.
Unfortunately, this is also the first place new users tend to get stuck. And with everything available on the market, it’s easy to see why.
So, let’s take some of the mystery out of it and talk about a few of the things you should be looking for when choosing the right CBD product for sleep.
First thing’s first – quality is EXTREMELY important. The difference between a high quality and a low quality oil can literally make or break whether or not it will work for you.
What exactly does quality mean when it comes to CBD? Here are a few things you should be looking for.
The first factor to consider is how and what your product is made from. A high quality brand will source their oil from high quality cannabis, and will be transparent about where it comes from on their packaging.
As far as how the CBD was extracted (i.e. how they actually got the oil out of the plant), you’ll want to make sure that whatever company you go with is using up-to-date extraction methods. One of the most sophisticated is CO2 extraction, the process of using pressurized carbon dioxide to separate the CBD from the plant. CO2 extraction also has the distinction of receiving the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) designation from the FDA.
Finally, you’ll want to pay attention not only to the volume of CBD oil, but the concentration as well.
If the distinction between volume and concentration doesn’t totally make sense, here’s a brief rundown – volume is the total amount of liquid (oil) in your product (i.e. how many milliliters in a bottle).
Concentration, on the other hand, is the total amount of active CBD (measured in milligrams).
At the end of the day, concentration is really what matters. A 30 ml bottle of oil with 1000 mg of CBD is obviously going to give you more bang for your buck that the same bottle with 200 mg (we’ll cover this in more detail when we get to our dosing recommendations).
The THC Factor
While CBD has rapidly been gaining acceptance as a treatment for a number of health issues, many are still put off of THC because of an aversion to using a substance that’s “mind-altering”. It’s important to point out, however, that THC also has a number of sleep-related benefits you may want to consider.
Research has indicated that CBD has the potential to be quite effective in reducing anxiety (a major cause of sleepless nights for a lot of people). It’s also shown a lot of promise for improving the quality of your sleep in a number of ways. One review, for example, found that CBD may help in improving “REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness”.
THC, on the other hand, has long been shown to be sedating and helps reduce “sleep latency” (i.e. it makes it easier to fall asleep faster). Unfortunately, its potential for knocking you out faster comes with the drawback of reducing sleep quality, particularly at the deeper parts of the sleep cycle.
But there’s also the fact that, when combined with other cannabinoids like CBD, THC work in conjunction with them. This is a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the “entourage effect” by researchers, and it explains why it can effect the same person in different ways.
One of the things that researchers have noted is that CBD really seems to take the edge off of the psychoactive properties of THC, reducing a lot of the anxiety and agitation that some people experience (if you’ve ever smoked high-THC pot and become paranoid, this is why). Conversely, some users find that at certain doses and times of the day, CBD can actually be mildly stimulating, which can be counteracted by the sedative effects of THC.
So, all of this begs the question – should you be using a pure CBD product to help you sleep, or should you introduce THC into the mix as well? Honestly, whether you choose something with THC or not is going to depend on a number of variables, including body chemistry and your specific sleep issue (legality can also obviously be an issue depending on where you live).
If you are suffering from issues getting to sleep, taking some combination of the two cannabinoids may be something to look into.
Choosing The Right Delivery Method
When most people think of CBD, they think about bottles of oil with little droppers that you plop into your mouth. But there are also a number of other options you can consider.
The term “sublingual” is a fancy way of saying “under the tongue”. This method involves taking CBD (usually flavored to make it palatable), putting a few drops in your mouth, and (like the name implies) holding it under your tongue.
One of the rookie mistakes newbies who don’t know any better (or who don’t like to read directions) make is to swallow their oil. And while it may seem like the intuitive thing to do, there’s a very good reason you DON’T want to do this – bioavailability.
Bioavailability refers to the active ingredient in any medication, vitamin, or supplement (in this case, the actual cannabidiol itself), and how much of it actually ends up in your bloodstream after its been processed by the body. Although swallowing your oil will get the CBD into your bloodstream, it’s really not the best move, since a lot of it will be broken down though the process of digestion (we’ll cover this more in detail in our next section).
By going the sublingual route and holding it under your tongue (usually for about 60-90 seconds), you’ll get far better bioavailability. The CBD is absorbed through the mucus membrane and spread by the capillaries in the tongue, allowing it to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream (usually within 20 minutes or so).
Another reason this method is so popular is ease of use. Not only is it incredibly easy to take, it makes dosing very straightforward – most oils on the market come with a dropper that has a standardized measurement in milliliters. For users taking CBD on a nightly basis to treat chronic sleep issues, the fact that you can measure how much you’re consuming accurately and consistently is a huge advantage.
Ingesting CBD involves taking it orally, swallowing it, and allowing it to pass through the body’s digestive system. Products that can be ingested include capsules and pills, but they also include a whole host of edibles – cookies, brownies and, well, pretty much anything that tastes good.
Ingesting CBD quite popular because it’s simple and pleasant. For many people who are new to the world of cannabis, eating a CBD-infused gummy bear is a lot less intimidating than vaping it or holding it under your tongue.
One of the drawbacks of ingesting CBD, however, is the issue of bioavailability. A great deal of the cannabidiol in your product is metabolized at various points in the digestive process (particularly by the liver), reducing the overall amount that ends up in your bloodstream.
How much cannabidiol do you lose in the process? One study found bioavailability rates of only 4-20%. With that said, CBD edibles are still an option for many people, but if you are going to go the ingestion route, you need to factor this into your dosing.
Inhaling CBD functions the same way as smoking a cigarette or a joint – the CBD is taken directly into the lungs and absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream.
Unfortunately, it’s because of the comparison to smoking that a lot of users are put off by the idea of inhalation. But it’s important to understand that, while the result might be the same, the process is completely different.
First of all, CBD isn’t “smoked” – it’s taken either by vaping or using an e-cigarette. Smoking involves literally burning the product your using, releasing a whole host of toxic chemicals and carcinogens.
Using a vaporizer to inhale CBD is completely different. Vaping is a clean process that comes with none of the burning, toxicity and general unpleasantness of smoking.
It’s also extremely effective and efficient. Vaped CBD enters the bloodstream via the alveoli sacs in the lungs, and the effects can be felt within a few minutes, faster than sublingual (under the tongue) drops and definitely faster than eating an edible.
It also comes with EXCELLENT bioavailability, with one study finding rates of up to 56%. Not only is vaping great bang for your buck, but the fact that it works so quickly and can deliver such high doses make it a great option for the occasional bout of insomnia.
CBD creams, lotions and balms have become hugely popular over the last few years. Unlike the other methods on this list, however, topical CBD products are unique in that they don’t actually make it to the bloodstream. Instead, cannabidiol applied in this way enters the body transdermally, and interacts with the local cannabinoid receptors in the skin.
So, while users who suffer from localized pain (muscle aches, bruises, etc.) or skin issues such as acne may benefit from these products, for treating sleep issues, you’ll need a delivery method which actually gets into your bloodstream. Save the creams for when you have a muscle ache that just won’t go away.
The last method we’ll cover is by far the least popular and, frankly, probably the most unpleasant – taking CBD anally or vaginally and allowing it to be absorbed by the capillaries in these areas.
While the idea of suppositories is certainly off-putting for most people, it should be pointed out that it does come with excellent bioavailability. It also has the potential to be beneficial for users suffering from digestive issues such as Crohn’s disease.
At the end of the day, most people aren’t going to go the suppository route simply due to the hassle and uncomfortableness of the whole process.
But it should still be considered an option, particularly for those who have tried all the other methods with no success.
How To Set Your Dosage
Now that you understand the pros and cons of each delivery methods, let’s move on to dosing.
If you’ve ever scoured the internet in search of dosing recommendations for CBD, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you that the advice is all over the place. The “correct” amount to take will vary widely depending on both the person and the desired outcome.
One thing that needs to be pointed out is that, unlike a lot of prescription and over the counter medications, the way that CBD reacts with the human body really depends on the individual. Unlike most prescription medications that come with a standard dose (or a supplement with a Reference Daily Intake) one user’s ideal dose may be completely different from someone else’s. At the end of the day, discovering the right amount for you will be a matter of trial and error.
With that said, here are a few “best practice” recommendations to keep in mind.
One of the best ways to gauge how much CBD to take initially is your body weight. It should go without saying, but a 200 pounds man will need a higher dose than a 120 pound woman.
A good starting range would be anywhere from 0.1-0.5 mg of CBD per pound of bodyweight. That means that a 150 pound user should be taking anywhere from 15-75 mg per day. Start on the low end and monitor your sleep quality as you increase the dose.
How much you should take will also depend on what variety of sleep issue you’re looking to treat. Treating occasional insomnia or nighttime anxiety may require a higher dosage than optimizing your sleep/wake cycle.
Yes, this is a very wide range, but again, it needs to be pointed out that everyone reacts differently. Some people get optimal results on a very small amount, while other may need to go even higher than this.
Which brings us to the next point (and one that often goes overlooked) – understanding the difference between milligrams and milliliters.
Remember, the number of milliliters in a bottle of CBD oil is simply a measure of the total liquid in the container. The number of milligrams is the amount of active CBD.
It may seem redundant to even bring this up, but it’s important to point out because so many people simply don’t consider it.
Let’s say for example that you’ve purchased an oil. In order to effectively measure your dose, you need to determine a.) how many milliliters of liquid is in the bottle, b.) how many milliliters one drop from the dropper will be, and c.) how many total milligrams of actual CBD there is.
So, if there’s 1000 mg of CBD, 30 ml of oil in the bottle, and one drop represents 1 ml, then you would simply divide the total milligrams of CBD in the bottle by the total milliliters to give you the total amount in a single drop (1000mg/30 = approximately 33 mg per drop).
This method applies whether you’re vaping the product or holding it under your tongue. Should you choose to go the edible route, the dosage in milligrams will typically be indicated on the package.
The bottom line is this – whether you’re hoping to treat crippling insomnia or you simply want a better night sleep, there’s a good chance that CBD can help.
But – at least until the research catches up – taking CBD in a way that’s effective is still very much a science and an art. By being willing to experiment with different products, methods and dosages and paying attention to how you respond, ultimately you’ll be able to develop a CBD regimen that works for you, your body and – most importantly – your sleep.