how-cannabis-can-help-improve-your-sleep

How Cannabis Can Help Improve Your Sleep

January 06, 2021

By Emma Kaserkie 

Over the past year, the global community has faced unprecedented and deeply unexpected challenges. The stressors of a worldwide pandemic, one that shuts down offices and schools, creates mass unemployment, and devastates hospitals, are immense on all individuals. Pre-pandemic, a whopping 33-to-49 million American adults suffered from chronic insomnia. Now, with COVID-19 decimating the lives of millions, that number is most certainly higher. As the legalization of recreational marijuana sweeps across the country (welcome to the club, New Jersey, Arizona, and Montana), many adults are turning to cannabis as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Not all marijuana is grown the same, however, and it is important to be informed as to what strains and methods of ingestion are best for you.

First off, CBD Versus CBN Versus THC

CBD (cannabidiol), CBN (cannabinol), and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common acronyms thrown about when referring to marijuana. They are all cannabinoids, and there are over a hundred of them (these ones are by far the most common, though). Each has a unique name and characteristics such as taste, strength, and smell. The important thing to note when selecting a strain of cannabis is the ratio of CBD to THC to CBN. 

CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t make you feel “high.” The stereotypical side effects of marijuana use--red eyes, impaired reflexes, and increased appetite--are not a result of CBD. Those side effects are actually a result of THC, which is psychoactive and produces that “high” feeling. Both can aid insomnia, as CBD is typically used to ease anxiety, and THC can prevent REM sleep.

Related article: THC and CBD, and the Entourage Effect!

CBN is another cannabinoid that helps with sleep aid. When looking for a product, check to see if it has CBN. CBN is not as psychoactive as THC but can produce a somewhat meditative effect. Experts are still determining whether it is universally psychoactive--it impacts people differently, so keep that in mind when trying it for the first time. It can not only induce sleep but prolong it as well. On top of that, it can aid with pain relief and anxiety.

Terpenes and What They Do

Another important thing to keep in mind when selecting your product is terpenes. Terpenes are the aromatic chemical compounds found in many plants, such as oranges, lavender, and pine. They are most commonly associated with cannabis, however, as it has a very distinct smell. With over 100 different terpenes now, you can choose them based on how they’ll affect you. Some beneficial (and popular) terpenes include:

  • Mc (myrcene); the most popular terpene in commercial cannabis, promotes feelings of relaxation and calm, and has an earthy, herbal aroma

  • Ln (linalool); also a mild sedative, is used to treat insomnia, and has a floral aroma

  • Lm (limonene); stress-relieving and used to treat anxiety, has a citrus aroma

Related article: What are cannabis terpenes and what do they do? 

Possibly the coolest part about terpenes is how they interact with cannabinoids, which is called the entourage effect. This pretty much means that terpenes and cannabinoids work with or against each other to produce a particular feeling. Combining terpenes that promote relaxation with cannabinoids that make you sleepy will induce an even stronger sensation.

Contrastingly, if you mix an energizing terpene with a cannabinoid that’s meant to relax you, neither will work properly. Sometimes these contrasting influences can be positive--mixing Pn (pinene) with THC can combat the memory impairment that THC can induce. It’s all about finding what combinations work best for you, and using cannabis to its full potential.

The Science of Sleeping

Even though to most people sleeping is as simple as lying down and closing your eyes, many suffer through insomnia and other sleep disorders. Essentially, sleep can be broken down into 4 stages:

  1. N1--this is the time of falling asleep. It lasts between 5 and 10 minutes and is when your heart rate slows and your body prepares to enter sleep (this is when people get the twitches). It is easy to wake someone up from this stage of sleep.

  2. N2--this stage is when the body and brain fully relax. Your temperature will drop slightly, and your eye movement stops. The first N2 stage of your sleep cycle is between 10 and 25 minutes but gets progressively longer as the night continues. N2 accounts for about half of your night’s sleep.

  3. N3--this is deep, restorative sleep. It is difficult to wake someone up from this stage, and doing so can actually have negative impacts on their health. N3 sleep lasts between 10 and 60 minutes, and is the time when the body heals itself. It can also improve your immune system, which is vital at all times, especially these days.

  4. REM--this is dreaming, essentially. The body simultaneously experiences atonia, which is the temporary paralyzation of all muscles except for the eyes and those that control breathing, and increased brain activity to a level near awakeness. Many sleep disorders during this stage, such as sleep paralysis and chronic nightmares, can be aided by the use of cannabis.

Different Ways to Ingest Marijuana

There are a plethora of ways to enjoy cannabis, however, not all of them are good for sleep aid. Those with long-lasting effects should be avoided, as they can cause drowsiness in the morning. Here are some different, effective ways to ingest cannabis for sleep aid:

1. Smoking--smoking marijuana offers almost instant effects, which is good if you’re looking to fall asleep right away. Smoking can be done by lighting the end of a joint (rolled cannabis), using a hand pipe, or using a water pipe (a bong). All three methods involve combustion, which means that you’re using fire to ignite the cannabis. The chemical reactions that take place when smoking can be detrimental, as you inhale harmful compounds into your lungs.

Related article: 7 Best Ways to Smoke Weed - Pros, Cons, and More

2. Vaping--vaping also offers near-instantaneous effects, but uses hot air rather than fire. By not using fire, you avoid the harmful chemical reactions that you would inhale while smoking. When buying a vaporizer, you can often choose between ones that use dry herb or liquid concentrate. Make sure to always buy a vaporizer from a licensed distributor--buying them illegally could lead to accidentally buying one that is laced with harmful and addictive toxins.

Related article: Vaping vs. Smoking pot: Which is better for you?

3. Dabbing--this is not suitable for beginners. Dabbing requires very highly concentrated cannabis, making it easy to ingest too much and lead to discomfort. It is also a mix of combustion and heating, which means you are still at risk of inhaling harmful chemical compounds. Unless you are an experienced marijuana user, do not try dabbing.

Related article: How to Dab Cannabis Concentrates: Oil, Shatter, Wax, and More

4. Edibles--edibles are also not suitable for beginners, as well as not suitable for sleep aid. They do not have the hallmark taste and smell of marijuana but have a long release time. They can take hours to work, which could mean tossing and turning for hours on end and can also affect you for 8 to 10 hours. They, like dabbing, can also create a very intense “high” feeling. This could lead to drowsiness in the morning as well.

5. Tinctures--Tinctures are good if you dislike the smell of marijuana. They come in tiny bottles and a few drops can be placed under the tongue. They work quickly and don’t taste all too bad, although some recommend diluting it with apple juice or honey. For best results, refrain from eating or drinking for 15 minutes after taking it. Here’s two safe sleep-aid tinctures, and one recipe in case you’re really feeling inspired:

    1. Beauty Sleep
    2. Deep Sleep Tincture
    3. And Here is a Recipe for Sleep Aid Tincture

In the end, it is up to you what method works best. Dabbing and edibles are, again, not suitable for beginners. Vaping and tinctures are the most beginner-friendly methods, as well as the easiest and safest as long as you buy from a reputable distributor. Again, please do not participate in any illegal drug sales--they are not safe.

How Does Cannabis Help Improve Sleep?

Cannabis can be used to aid a whole host of sleep disorders, including sleep paralysis, insomnia, and chronic nightmares. CBD helps relax your mind and body, and THC can help reduce the amount of time you spend in REM sleep. By limiting your REM sleep, you can prevent sleep paralysis, which occurs when your mind wakes up but your body is still paralyzed. By not dreaming as much, which mostly occurs during REM, those with chronic nightmares can sleep better and continue their sleep cycle, waking up feeling more rested. Both CBD and THC are relaxants, which help you fall asleep and can combat insomnia.

Even if you don’t have any of these sleep disorders, cannabis use before bed can lead to a better night’s sleep overall. Some tips and tricks for using cannabis to its full potential include:

  • Setting up your atmosphere. Turn the lights down, get cozy in bed, the works. Another good idea is using an essential oil diffuser with lavender (try to avoid candles, though, as you could get too sleepy and forget to blow them out!)
  • Turning on some relaxing music or your favorite show. There are tons of chill playlists on Spotify and YouTube, and my go-to show to wind down is “The Office.”
  • Making sure you have the right product. Objectively speaking, having a blend of CBD and THC is the best--too much CBD and you won’t skip out on your REM sleep, and too much THC and you could feel paranoid instead of relaxed. Also make sure you have a strain that is more Indica than Sativa. 
  • Practicing a mediation. Meditating before bed helps you to relax, and combining than with marijuana is a perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep.

What To Ask Your Dispensary

When purchasing marijuana for the first time, a lot of people tend to be nervous or not know what to ask for. There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing cannabis to improve your sleep:

  • What kind of product should I buy?

As a beginner, you should be ideally either vaping or using a tincture. Your dispensary should be able to explain to you how to use whatever product you are purchasing--make sure they are knowledgeable and that your product is beginner-friendly.

  • What’s the difference between strains of cannabis?
    1. Indica is soothing and relaxing.
    2. Sativa is energizing and invigorating.
    3. Hybrids are a blend of the two--some hybrids are more heavily Indica-based, others are predominantly Sativa.

Related article: How to choose marijuana strains - Cannabis strain guide

For sleep aid, you’ll either want pure Indica or a hybrid strain that is mostly Indica. Smoking Sativa for sleep aid is kind of like turning all the lights on and blasting music and hoping that’ll knock you out.

  • What’s the THC-to-CBD-to-CBN ratio?

Because THC is psychoactive, it can create feelings of anxiety or paranoia. Be sure to ask your dispensary about this ratio: if there is more THC than CBD or CBN, it could actually increase, rather than decrease, your anxiety. If you tend to lie tossing and turning at night, or overthinking when you lie down, having more CBN or CBD in your product is going to be more beneficial.

  • What terpenes are in this product?

You’ll want to know this for a few reasons. Firstly, for sleep aid, it’s best to get a product with relaxing terpenes. You’ll also want to make sure the terpenes in your product will react well with the cannabinoids (remember that entourage effect?). Just as a refresher, here are some popular relaxing terpenes to look for:

  • Mc (myrcene)
  • Ln (linalool)
  • Lm (limonene)

Your dispensary should also be able to point you in the right direction if they don’t  have these exact ones (they should since these are very popular). If your dispensary doesn’t know what you’re talking about, find a different and more knowledgeable location.

Conclusion

And just like that, you’re all set to embark on your journey to a better night’s sleep! Remember to always buy legally from a dispensary and get all the information about the product purchasing. If you are truly concerned about your sleep disorder, contact your doctor before making any decisions or if marijuana use does not help you. But other than that, be smart, be safe, and enjoy a nice sound sleep!

About the Author

Emma Kaserkie is a full-time student, writer, and lover of Marvel movies. She spends most of her time ignoring her responsibilities in favor of reading, learning global geography, and finding new ways to prepare instant noodles. She lives with her parents and sister and a very needy dog named Eloise.