Can CBD Improve Your Sleep? Here's What Experts Say


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March 20 is the final day of 2021’s Sleep Awareness Week. The National Sleep Foundation started celebrating this week in 1998, to encourage people to prioritize shut-eye and overall well-being. NSF intentionally planned for Sleep Awareness Week to coincide with DST every year. This absolutely makes sense given the science behind sleep and why you might be reaching for sleep aids in the wake of the time change.

"Evidence has shown that changing the clock twice a year is detrimental to our circadian rhythm, and overall health and safety — including cardiovascular events, mental health issues, and even traffic fatalities,” Dr. Rick Bogan, NSF Board Chair, said in a statement on March 14. Before you panic, know there are some quick, easy things you can do to smooth out this adjustment period, like eliminating electronics use before bed and matching your indoor lighting to the time of day. And then there are over-the-counter sleep aids, like CBD.

So, what’s the deal with CBD?

You might be suspicious of this buzzy beauty ingredient and hot wellness ingredient — especially if the idea of engaging with cannabis at all makes you uncomfortable. But a quick distinction: while cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both found in cannabis, they have different psychoactive effects. THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain, and gives you a sense of euphoria. Meanwhile, you can’t get high from using CBD, but CBD has been found to reduce anxiety, depression symptoms, and seizures

THC and CBD are both shining stars in the sleep realm because of the endocannabinoid system, as discovered in the 1990s by cannabis researchers. This regulatory system governs mood, metabolism, appetite, and motor control. It also regulates chronic pain, inflammation and other immune system responses, stress, and sleep. CBD in particular has been found to reduce key physiological conditions for insomnia.

How does CBD help you fall asleep?

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For some folks, insomnia stems from an overproduction of high cortisol levels at night, as this stress hormone increases your number of nighttime wakings. “Cortisol, produced and secreted by our adrenal glands which sit atop our kidneys, plays an integral role in the body's circadian rhythm,” Jillian Tuchman, MS, RDN, previously told us.

“There is usually a cortisol spike in the early hours of the morning, which contributes to feelings of wakefulness,” she continues. “The hormone interferes with sleep by actually signaling the body to lower its levels of melatonin.” A 2019 study touched on how cortisol levels can decrease significantly when CBD is administered — thus demonstrating how CBD can help you sleep. 

Likewise, a 2012 study showed, compared to a placebo, a 160 mg dose of CBD increased sleep duration in the study's insomniac participants. CBD is known to leave some lingering sedative effects, similar to melatonin.

Is CBD better than melatonin?

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How does CBD compare to melatonin? The latter is a naturally-occurring hormone, released by your pineal gland typically at night. Melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Because your body already makes this hormone, experts recommend taking melatonin tablets on a short-term basis only for maximum efficacy. Think nights when you're tossing and turning, when you're experiencing jet lag, or need to wake up early for a work call or academic exam. Johns Hopkins sleep expert Dr. Luis F. Buenaver says to take 1 to 3 mg, two hours before bedtime. 

Because key research about cannabis and its derivatives is ongoing, there isn’t necessarily a consensus as to whether melatonin or CBD is better, and whether long-term usage is recommended. If you’ve been leaning heavily on melatonin or are looking for an alternative fast-acting sleep aid, it may be worthwhile to consider CBD for a change of pace.

How do I incorporate CBD into  my sleep routine?

 

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For example, you can take an edible, which is often available these days in the form of CBD gummies. These can take two hours to kick in, whereas sublingual products like tinctures (meant to be absorbed under the tongue) bypass the digestive tract and work faster. These can take two hours to kick in, whereas sublingual products like tinctures (meant to be absorbed under the tongue) bypass the digestive tract and work faster.

And lastly, you can smoke CBD, either in the form of a joint or a cartridge in a vaporizer. Vaping and smoking CBD allows the compound to go directly into your bloodstream, so this is the quickest method. According to Healthline, you can absorb up to 56% of the CBD in 10 minutes or less. (Healthline also has a helpful resource for calculating how much CBD you should take based on method and body chemistry.)

It’s Up To You

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No matter what route you go, the choice is yours. What matters is that you're safely and effectively getting some rest in the face of pesky DST. If it's any consolation, Daylight Savings Time 2021 will end on Nov. 7. You'll "fall back," get an extra hour of sleep, and sure, lose some sunlight. But at least you'll have a solid night-time routine to help you ease into that transition.


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