Studies show that marijuana can affect your sleep in many ways.
Many people reach for a joint when they can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep. Not surprisingly, research shows that THC is an effective sleep aid.
Besides helping the average insomniac, marijuana can help treat sleep disturbances related to medical conditions such as sleep apnea, PTSD, and chronic pain. It can also affect your sleep cycle and the quality of your sleep.
Let’s take a deeper look at the science behind marijuana and sleep.
Can Marijuana Help You Sleep?
Many people use marijuana at night to help themselves fall asleep. Aside from being used as a home remedy, research suggests that marijuana can have many beneficial effects on your sleep.
Studies show that marijuana can help with insomnia, sleep apnea, and sleep issues related to PTSD and chronic pain.
Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep, is a common problem that affects approximately 1 in 3 people. While many turn to prescription or over-the-counter drugs, others have had success using marijuana.
Several studies have confirmed that marijuana can make it easier to fall asleep.
A 2013 study of healthy marijuana users found that they had less difficulty falling asleep, took less time to fall asleep and had more daytime sleep the following day.
In another study from 1973, THC reduced the time it took for patients with insomnia to fall asleep by over an hour on average. However, the researchers noted that too high of a dose could counteract the effect.
Marijuana may also help with specific conditions like sleep apnea, where a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People suffering from this condition often stop breathing during the night.
THC has been shown to help calm or stabilize this type of sleep-disordered breathing.
In a 2013 study, researchers administered synthetic THC to sleep apnea patients, and found that their nighttime breathing and symptoms improved in a dose-dependent manner.
People with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) may also benefit from marijuana use when it comes to sleep.
When a person has experienced a traumatic event, they may suffer from nightmares that interfere with their sleep. Marijuana use is common among those with PTSD, and patients report using it to help them sleep.
A 2009 study looked at synthetic THC as a treatment for PTSD-related nightmares. They found that patients slept longer, had higher sleep quality, and experienced fewer daytime flashbacks when using the drug.
Another common reason people seek relief with cannabis is to reduce pain at night and improve sleep. The combination of pain and poor sleep can have serious effects on a person’s wellbeing.
Marijuana is known for its ability to relieve pain and to help with insomnia. Likewise, research shows that many people who use marijuana for chronic pain find that it also improves their quality of sleep.
How Does Marijuana Affect Sleep?
Besides helping you fall asleep, marijuana has a wide range of effects on your sleep.
This is because compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, actually mimic the activity of chemicals found naturally in the brain. These chemicals and their biological pathways make up the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating sleep, among other things.
When you consume marijuana, cannabinoids such as THC and CBD act on the brain to change the sleep-wake cycle.
The sleep-wake cycle includes five stages, each one progressively deeper than the last. The cycle repeats several times throughout the night. For example, REM sleep is the stage where you dream.
Marijuana can affect the progression and length of these cycles, changing the way you sleep.
Marijuana affects the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of the sleep cycle. This is the sleep stage where dreaming occurs. Memories are also consolidated during this stage of sleep, and it is difficult to wake during this time.
THC reduces the amount of time a person spends in REM sleep. In fact, many people who smoke marijuana before bedtime report a lack of dreaming.
A 1975 study compared the sleep patterns of experienced marijuana users with those given a placebo. They found reduced eye movement activity and less REM sleep among those who used marijuana.
When subjects stopped using marijuana, a “rebound effect” with more REM activity was observed. This explains why it’s common for marijuana users to experience a flood of dreams as soon as they quit smoking.
Studies show that THC can increase the amount of slow-wave sleep — also known as deep sleep — that a person experiences during their slumber.
This may be a good thing, since deep sleep is believed to play a major role in the restoration process that occurs during sleep.
Experts believe that the most damaging effects of sleep deprivation result from a lack of slow-wave sleep. For example, research has shown that reduced slow-wave sleep can be a strong predictor of high blood pressure in older men.
Factors Involved With Marijuana and Sleep
THC vs. CBD
While THC can make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep, CBD has been shown to act as a wake-promoting agent. So the balance of THC and CBD in a particular strain is important when it comes to getting better sleep.
For help with falling asleep, it’s recommended that you choose a strain that is higher in THC.
Indica vs. Sativa
Sativa strains are known for their uplifting, energetic high, and are recommended for daytime use. Indica strains, on the other hand, produce a sleepy, “couch-lock” type of high that is ideal for helping you get to sleep.
The opposite effects of indica and sativa strains may be related to their cannabinoid content. Sativa strains generally have a higher CBD to THC ratio, while indica strains have a higher THC to CBD ratio.
Frequency of Use
Research suggests that how often you use marijuana may be linked to different outcomes when it comes to sleep.
Occasional use of marijuana can improve your quality of sleep, but heavy use of marijuana is associated with poorer sleep.
Can Marijuana Make Your Sleep Worse?
While occasional marijuana use doesn’t disrupt sleep, heavy or daily use is associated with sleep problems.
A 2016 study found that daily marijuana users actually scored higher on measures of insomnia and sleep disturbances than those who used marijuana occasionally.
Less frequent users typically reported using marijuana at night. Heavy users reported using marijuana multiple times a day, and had a greater chance of disturbed sleep.
It is not clear whether people who already have sleep problems tend to use marijuana more heavily, or if marijuana is actually the source of their sleep problems. In other words, the results may reflect people with sleep problems simply using marijuana to self-medicate.
However, it has been suggested that marijuana can actually make insomnia worse. A 2014 study found that people who used marijuana early in life were more prone to sleep problems later on. About 42% of daily marijuana users experienced sleep disturbances when they quit.
Aside from the question of whether marijuana makes insomnia worse, some studies report “hangover” effects from smoking marijuana before bed. In a 1985 study, participants who smoked marijuana at night reported residual effects the morning after.
These results were echoed in a 2013 study, which found that the sleep-inducing effects of marijuana sometimes persisted into the morning.
Marijuana has the potential to address insomnia and sleep problems caused by conditions like sleep apnea, PTSD, and chronic pain.
Smoking the odd joint at night to help you fall asleep can be an effective strategy to combat insomnia. But using marijuana multiple times a day is linked to greater sleep difficulties.
If you use marijuana at night to help you sleep, don’t expect to have many dreams. Marijuana has been found to impair REM sleep, the sleep stage where you are most likely to dream.
Finally, expect a few “hangover” symptoms from smoking late at night, like persistent sleepiness and changes in how you feel.
The moral of the story seems to be that less is more when it comes to using marijuana for sleep.