Saturday February 22, 2020
By Paul Barach
Nearly everyone has gone through insomnia at least once in their lives. Maybe it’s one restless night of staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Maybe it’s a couple of months spent tossing and turning. Either way, not getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on your life in both the short and long term. That’s why insomnia is one of the top reasons that people turn to cannabis for the first time (the other being pain relief.) No one likes lying in bed awake as the hours tick past, knowing that with each one you’re only going to be more tired tomorrow.
People may suffer from insomnia for a wide variety of reasons. They can be stressed about their job, their bank account, or their relationship. There could also be deeper issues such as anxiety or depression. Light pollution from too much screen time, medication interactions, and genetic sleep disorders can also be factors, among many others.
Or maybe you just pay attention to the news. It’s nuts out there. Making insomnia even more difficult to deal with is the fact that there’s no real one-size-fits-all cure out there. Sleep aid medications can be habit forming or have unwanted side effects. A little night cap of booze can disrupt your sleep cycles and leave you hung over and dehydrated the next day. Herbal remedies and supplements such as chamomile, lavender, melatonin, or valerian root can only go so far and may leave you relaxed without necessarily asleep.
So, what about marijuana? Can smoking some pot before bed bring the sandman back to visit? Will a dessert edible help you get that solid eight hours of shut eye you’ve been lacking? Could that evening dab get your body and your bed to reconcile?
Cannabis, Insomnia and Sleeping
First off, weed can be a great method for getting your eyelids nice and heavy. Whether it’s a powerful indica that does the trick, smoking a bedtime bowl or popping in a cannabis gummy or two could punch your ticket to dream town. If stress is keeping you awake, an uplifting, chill hybrid or a high-CBD strain could help your head hit the pillow. But, as with many things, marijuana is not a magic cure-all. At least, not for the majority of people.
While that joint may get you to sleep, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a full, restorative eight hours. One reason for this is that THC can have a big effect on REM sleep. Both clinical studies and anecdotal experience have shown that THC and CBD can lengthen the restful sleep cycle before entering REM sleep, but shorten the amount of time spent in REM sleep.
In other words, smoking a bowl before bed may send you to dream town, but it could be a much shorter visit than if you fell asleep without it.
Since REM sleep is where dreams happen, disrupting your REM cycle can lead to some real problems the following day. According to some theories, dreaming is your body’s way of downloading your day from short term memory into long term memory. Even if this isn’t totally accurate, deep REM sleep is still the time of night when your body and brain can recover from the day’s exertions. Shortening the REM cycle can have effects on your ability to focus, learn, and retain information the next day. Disrupted REM sleep over time has also been linked to an increase in accidents as well as health issues such as obesity, mood disorders, and memory problems. It’s important to note that if you’re only using pot to sleep in the short term, your REM sleep should bounce back once you stop consuming before bed. You’ll know when it does because your dreams will be especially vivid.
How Cannabis Helps with Sleep Issues
For some people with sleep disorders, making sure dreams don’t happen can be an important feature of using cannabis to treat their insomnia. There’s a reason veterans and others suffering from PTSD have been consuming marijuana as medicine for decades. Being able to sleep without being woken by disruptive or traumatic dreams can help maintain a healthy night’s rest. Even if it means that they may not be as sharp the next day, it’s a lot better than waking up multiple times a night in a panic.
Similarly, those suffering from multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or chronic pain conditions have found weed to help prevent them from waking up in the middle of the night because of severe aches or discomfort. Again, a night of consistent sleep is much more preferable and much healthier than a sleepless night, or months of them in a row.
Cannabis may also help to prevent sleep apnea. This condition causes sleep disturbances by blocking your airway as you sleep, causing you to wake multiple times a night to breathe again. If you’re suffering from a sleep disorder like insomnia, it can take a lot of experimentation with cannabis before dialing in the right method that works for you. Each person has a different experience with cannabis based on many factors, including the strain, their own genetics, and even their method of consumption. Indicas might keep you up all night but sativas could knock you out. Concentrates could wind you down while edibles get your mind spinning. Flower could be the cure for your particular insomnia but only if it’s smoked out of a dry herb vape.
Tips for Consuming Cannabis for Better Sleep
Since there are so many things to consider, it might help to keep a sleep journal. Write down what strain you’re smoking as well as any details about it. If you find that a low-THC/high-CBD strain works best for you, there’s your starting point. You can narrow it down further by focusing on the major terpenes. If berry flavored strains or lavender scented ones work best, ask your budtender about similar ones at your next visit. See which edibles work best for you and why. Find out how many dabs at bedtime have you greeting the morning the next day.
Combining sleep remedies can also make an enormous difference in curing insomnia.
Maybe smoking cannabis gets you to sleep, but also taking some melatonin and magnesium supplements help prolong that REM sleep that THC curtails. Washing down an edible with some relaxing chamomile tea could work better than either on their own.
While there is no cure-all for insomnia, marijuana can be a great tool for at least getting you back to your regular shut eye. Some experimentation may be in order before you figure out the combination or method that works best, but with a little attention you’ll be back to a full eight hours in no time.
Have you ever used cannabis to help you sleep? What were the results? Share your tips, tricks and experiences in the comments below.