CBD is often marketed as a stimulant — something that makes you more focused and productive. You may even have seen CBD shots at your local corner store right next to the 5-Hour Energy. But another purported benefit of CBD is improved sleep.
For people skeptical of miracle supplements marketed with a laundry list of seemingly unrelated benefits (“it will boost your libido and regrow your hair!”), the contradiction might seem suspicious. So what gives?
It’s true, on the one hand, that the scientific evidence supporting CBD’s effectiveness as a sleep aid is limited (there isn’t much research in general on the subject, thank you government prohibition). Most studies are with rats, and the few small-scale human studies done so far have had mixed results.
However, CBD’s much better-established ability to reduce anxiety and stress, along with new evidence of the endocannabinoid system’s role in regulating sleep-wake cycles, indicates that CBD holds genuine promise as a sleep aid.
This description of CBD as more of an indirect sleep aid aligns with how people who use CBD oil for sleep describe its effects: not something that makes you drowsy, but that calms the general restlessness often associated with insomnia.
There’s a lot more to it than this, though. Still interested? Get into the weeds with us in this article. We explore the scientific mechanisms at play, review the latest studies on CBD oil and sleep, and help you choose a CBD sleep aid of your own.
CBD Oil for Sleep: Does It Work?
Yes, there’s good reason to believe CBD can help improve your sleep by alleviating anxiety, pain, and stress.
Anxiety and pain are two of the most common causes of insomnia, so it stands to reason that if CBD alleviates both then it can improve sleep. But does common sense hold up to scientific scrutiny? Let’s take a deeper dive.
Basics on the Endocannabinoid System
There is some evidence that CBD may help with insomnia for other reasons besides its anxiety and pain-fighting properties.
To figure out why, let’s first establish three important facts to get everyone on the same page here:
- The endocannabinoid system regulates critical functions like mood, appetite, pain, and sleep.
- The human body produces endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids) that interact with this system.
- Deficiencies (or surpluses) of endocannabinoids influence our mood, pain-perception, appetitive, anxiety, and sleep.
How CBD Can Help You Sleep Better
Summary: The daily drowsiness and grogginess caused by insomnia disrupts the body’s natural sleep-wake cycles — CBD may help stabilize and regulate these cycles.
Cannabinoids like CBD and THC act on the endocannabinoid system through a matrix of receptors, proteins and compounds that influence our feelings and sensations (positively, if you’re doing it right).
In fact, there is evidence that CBD activates the same receptors as caffeine supporting wakefulness (this is where CBD’s reputation as a focus-enhancer comes from). But here’s where it gets interesting.
If you know anything about circadian rhythms, then you know that the human body is programmed to sleep at night and be active during the day. There are a ton of factors that can throw off your sleep-wake cycles (staying up too late, eating or getting exposed to bluelight late in the day). Among them: the grogginess and drowsiness that insomnia patients experience during the day.
Insomnia forces you to stay up during the night, which throws off your circadian rhythms, and then the fatigue and drowsiness during the day that comes with sleeplessness throws off your circadian rhythms even more. CBD, if taken during the day, can promote alertness during the body’s natural period of wakefulness, which may help regulate sleep-wake cycles.
Studies on the Endocannabinoid System and Sleep
Summary: Animal studies have revealed a connection between the endocannabinoid system and the regulation of sleep-wake cycles.
Neuroimaging studies have indicated that signaling from the endocannabinoid system regulates sleep-wake cycles (in particular NREM sleep, the more restful periods of sleep preceding REM sleep). In several of these studies, CBD’s promotion of alertness was tied to its potential sleep-improving properties.
Keep in mind that most of these are rat studies, and that the connection between CBD and sleep is still little-understood. So are there any studies that involve actually giving people with insomnia CBD and seeing if their sleep improved? Yes, let’s take a look at a couple examples.
Human Studies on CBD Oil for Sleep
Summary: Preliminary studies have drawn cautious and temporary connections between CBD and improved sleep, but there is not yet reliable data on long-term efficacy.
- In a 2019 study which involved the clinical application of CBD for anxiety-related sleep disorders, 79.2% of patients experienced a decrease in anxiety, and 66.7% of patients saw an improvement in sleep. However, these initial improvements in sleep didn’t hold, and the sleep quality of the participants fluctuated over the experiment. The decrease in anxiety levels did hold, and while the authors are inconclusive on whether CBD is an effective sleep aid, they did cite its promise in fighting anxiety.
- A 2018 study of over 400 individuals using moderate-to-high CBD cannabis for insomnia saw general improvements in sleep. The study found a correlation between higher CBD levels and improved sleep, but did not find improvements in sleep with higher THC levels.
Of these two studies, one had mixed results, and the other dealt with CBD in conjunction with THC, not CBD alone. So as you can see, the science on CBD and sleep is still in its infancy. Federal prohibition is to blame for the lack of studies in this field, but CBD’s recent explosion in popularity promises that more is to come.
So Should You Try CBD for Better Sleep?
If your sleep problems are tied to anxiety, stress, or physical pain, then yes, you should give CBD a shot. But it’s also no magic cure-all for insomnia. What evidence there is supporting CBD’s value as a sleep aid indicates that it helps indirectly; it soothes and alleviates some of the discomforts that frequently cause insomnia.
That indicates to us that CBD would best be used in conjunction with natural treatments like melatonin or valerian root (and other methods proven to help with insomnia like exercise and improved diet).
When + How Much CBD Should I Take for Sleep?
There’s no doctor-recommended dosage or prescribed time that you’re supposed to take CBD oil for sleep (and the internet is divided on the subject as well), but here’s a recap of what we know:
- CBD may help regulate sleep-wake cycles by inducing alertness during the day
- CBD may help relieve insomnia by reducing anxiety, stress, and physical pain
Based on this, here is our recommendation: take a single small-to-medium dosage of CBD (10-20mg) at midday when you start fading or growing lethargic (anywhere between noon and 3PM), and then another small-to-medium dosage again in the mid-to-late evening (5-7PM). This dosage timing balances CBD’s natural function as a stimulant with its ability to soothe discomfort in the hours before you go to bed.
3 Step Guide for Choosing the Best CBD Oil for Sleep
The sad, unfortunate truth is: there’s a lot of sh*t in the CBD market (one recent study found that 69% of CBD products sold online were inaccurately labeled). Different methods of consumption also yield different results, and some forms of CBD may be less conducive for sleep than others. Check out our 3-step guide for buying the best CBD sleep aid.
1. Use Full-spectrum CBD.
Full-spectrum CBD contains over 100 cannabinoids and terpenes which work synergistically with CBD, and studies have shown that full-spectrum CBD has more medicinal value than CBD isolate. Put simply, terpenes + cannabinoids + CBD = more powerful relief.
2. Choose a Lab-verified Brand
This gets to our point about the not-exactly-amazing quality standards of the unregulated CBD market. You can only trust a brand’s claims if you see written on the label that it’s been tested and the CBD content verified by a third-party lab. We recommend only buying CBD products with such a label.
3. Consume an Edible or Beverage
CBD is absorbed quickest by vaping, but the effects of vaping also wear off faster. When you ingest CBD orally with either an edible or beverage it absorbs slowly in the digestive tract. This extends the overall time that the endocannabinoids stimulated by CBD can bind to cannabinoid receptors, the receptors that regulate wakefulness and sleepiness.