The use of CBD is a growing trend within the world of health and wellness products, with a third of Americans saying they’ve tried it at least once. Its popularity stems in part from the wide range of benefits it can provide, including relief from stress and anxiety, reducing pain associated with arthritis or other chronic conditions, and even treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
CBD products come in a number of different forms to suit different tastes – oils, tinctures, edibles, vapes, and creams are just some of the ways it can be taken. Whatever form it takes, one of the most common reasons that people take CBD is to help them sleep due to its relaxing effects.
Because of this, an association between CBD and sleepiness has formed. But is this true? Does CBD make you sleepy?
The truth is, it isn’t entirely accurate, as current research does not suggest a direct link between CBD and sleepiness. Rather, its relaxing effects and its interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), work to facilitate better sleep.
To understand how CBD can act as a sleep aid, it’s important to get a full picture of how CBD works – how it can make you feel, its impacts on your body chemistry, and which of these effects can have an impact on how you sleep.
How does CBD oil make you feel?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound known as a cannabinoid which comes from the cannabis family of plants, which includes marijuana and hemp plants. CBD is not the only product of cannabis plants, as they produce a range of other naturally occurring compounds.
The most well-known of these compounds other than CBD is THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives its users that signature high.
Unlike THC, however, CBD does not have any sort of intoxicating or psychoactive effect, so it won’t make you feel high. The way it does make you feel can be affected by a few different factors. First, it depends on who is taking it, as the effects can vary based on your body type, weight, gender, age, and metabolism.
It also depends on how you take it, as different methods of ingestion can affect how your body processes it; for example, edibles will act more slowly on your body as they need to be processed by your digestive system first, whereas vapes will allow CBD to enter your bloodstream within minutes. If you’re taking any other medication, this may also change the way your body reacts to CBD. This may also affect how long CBD lasts in your system.
In general, however, there are some common feelings associated with taking CBD. It can make you feel calmer, decrease anxiety, and improve your general sense of wellness. It doesn’t, however, make you tired or make you sleepy.
CBD as a stimulant for energy
Contrary to its association with relaxation and sleepiness, CBD oil can actually create a more stimulating, energizing effect. Research has shown that the impact of CBD varies greatly depending on the dose; lower doses can help to create a sense of focus and alertness, while higher doses create the relaxing effect that is more commonly associated with CBD.
This means that CBD is not only useful as a relaxant, it can also help boost your productivity by facilitating better focus and alertness.
How CBD oils may help with sleep
While there isn’t enough evidence currently to establish a direct link between CBD and sleepiness, experts have suggested that its effects can indirectly help to facilitate better sleep. A critical review of research on the benefits of CBD from 2019 stated that:
“Sleep is often a secondary, rather than a primary outcome in these studies. Many of the reviewed studies suggest that cannabinoids could improve sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances, reduce the potential of insomnia, and decrease sleep onset latency.”
In other words, studies into the other effects of CBD have found that these benefits have a knock-on impact on sleep quality, even if CBD itself does not make you sleepy.
There are four main factors in how CBD can help you sleep: relaxation of muscles, regulating sleep cycles, controlling cortisol levels, and reducing the chance of nightmares.
Relaxation of muscles
One way CBD may help you sleep is by relaxing your muscles, making you more comfortable, and potentially reducing pain from any injuries or chronic conditions you might suffer from. CBD molecules bind to chemical receptors in the endocannabinoid system called CB2 receptors.
In doing so they slow down the transmission of other molecules which cause muscle contractions. This reduces the rigidity of your muscles, making your body feel more relaxed and helping you fall asleep a lot easier.
Regulating sleep cycles
Somewhat paradoxically, the stimulating properties of lower CBD dosages can actually help to improve sleep by regulating the sleep cycle. Feeling sleepy in the daytime can contribute to being unable to sleep at night due to excessive daytime sleepiness or tiredness creating chemical imbalances in the parts of your brain that regulate sleep.
As a result, low doses of CBD which make you feel more alert and focused during the day can help to maintain your body’s daily rhythms and a healthy sleep cycle.
Controlling cortisol levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone, produced in the adrenal glands and released in order to tell your body that you’re under threat in some way.
Cortisol aids the essential fight-or-flight stress response of your body, which can prove essential for survival in dangerous situations; however, the stresses of everyday life can lead to excess cortisol production, leading to chronic, unresolved stress which makes it harder to fall asleep.
This is where CBD comes in. CBD can inhibit the amount of cortisol secreted, reducing your feelings of stress as a result. This is a major reason for CBD’s anxiolytic effects and can help you to sleep by reducing the physical and mental strain of chronic stress and anxiety which might otherwise keep you up at night.
Nightmares can have a pronounced effect on the quality of your sleep, both interrupting your regular sleep cycle if they wake you up and by causing distress which can increase feelings of stress and anxiety. Like normal dreams, nightmares mostly take place during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep.
CBD can help to reduce the chance of nightmares due to a combination of the factors above. Nightmares can often result from unresolved stress, so CBD’s regulation of cortisol and reduction of stress levels contributes to less risk of stress-induced nightmares. CBD’s regulation of the sleep-wake cycle also helps to maintain the correct balance of REM and non-REM sleep.
A common cause of excessive nightmares is REM sleep behavior disorder, which can extend the REM stage and cause more regular nightmares, so by limiting REM sleep to the proper amount, CBD may help to avoid prolonged nightmares.
In addition, CBD has been shown to have benefits for sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). PTSD sufferers often suffer from nightmares related to traumatic events; however, a study that treated PTSD sufferers with CBD (alongside psychotherapy) saw 91% of the participants report a decrease in the severity of their PTSD, in particular when it came to nightmares.
Does CBD oil help with sleeping disorders?
As noted above, studies on the effects of CBD have often noted its effect on sleep as a secondary factor to the main research, so it’s hard to say definitively whether it could treat sleep disorders such as insomnia.
However, many studies have noted positive effects on sleep quality from CBD usage, stemming from its other health benefits such as reduced stress levels, pain relief, feelings of relaxation, and a reduction in anxiety. Because of this, CBD use could help to indirectly treat sleeping disorders by facilitating better sleeping conditions.
In fact, CBD may in some cases be a better alternative for sleep disorder treatment than standard medication such as sleeping pills. Sleeping pills and other prescription medication can often have unwanted side effects, such as fatigue, or lead to dependency.
On the other hand, a 2017 study stated that “In comparison with other drugs, used for the treatment of these medical conditions, CBD has a better side effect profile.”
It is worth noting that CBD differs in some key areas from its sister compound THC, the other chemical component usually associated with cannabis products. Unlike CBD, which can help to promote better sleep but doesn’t make you sleepy or drowsy in itself, THC has a known reputation for inducing sleepiness.
The quality of sleep induced by THC is questionable, however, as its psychoactive effects can often interfere with natural sleep patterns and REM sleep.
Because of this, the type of CBD product being used has a big impact on the sleep benefits it can offer. CBD products usually come from two types of the cannabis plant – the hemp plant, which only has trace amounts of THC, and the marijuana plant, which has much higher THC content. In addition, there are three categories affecting THC content:
- Full spectrum CBD products contain all the naturally occurring compounds of the plant it is sourced from, including THC
- Broad spectrum CBD products remove THC but keep all the other compounds
- CBD isolate products remove everything except for the CBD – no other cannabis compound is present
These different CBD types can have different effects and benefits. Full-spectrum CBD may make you sleepy thanks to its THC content, but this may reduce the sleep benefits of the CBD. CBD isolates avoid the intoxication and psychoactivity of THC; however, there are benefits to be gained from other secondary cannabis plant compounds, so broad-spectrum CBD products can be helpful to gain the “entourage effect” of these secondary compounds.
Does CBD make you sleepy? The simple answer is that no, it doesn’t. However, it can facilitate better sleep quality as an indirect effect of its other health benefits, such as reducing stress, relieving pain, and increasing alertness during the day to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
The exact effects will vary based on the type of product you take, though, with the higher potential THC content of full-spectrum products creating a direct sedative effect that can actually induce feelings of sleepiness, rather than simply making sleep easier.
The bottom line is – if you’re having sleep issues and want to get a better night’s rest, CBD oil is a great place to start.