Can CBD Help You Sleep?

If getting a solid seven hours sounds like someone else’s dream, this alternative approach might help.

by Jennifer Tzeses Health Writer

The restless shifting from side to back to stomach to other side, the growing heap of discarded clothing and blankets mounting like a pose of people took up residence in your bed overnight, the T-shirts and towels strewn haphazardly about the room covering every visible sliver of light—it’s a familiar seen for the insomniac. For many Americans, the struggle to sleep is real: In fact, according to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million people in the U.S. have some sort of snooze disorder. If you’re among them, the desperation to fall (and stay) asleep can become all consuming—and keep you up at night. Which is why more and more people are turning to CBD, short for cannabidiol, as a sleep aid.

“CBD has been shown to be effective for a variety of conditions—many that affect our ability to get a restful night’s sleep,” says April Hatch, R.N., member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and co-founder of Cannabis Care Team in Kansas City. “Whether it's pain, restless leg syndrome, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, or inflammatory conditions, CBD addresses the root of the problem.” The compound supplements the endocannabinoid system (more on this later), explains Hatch, promoting relaxation.

In fact, a spate of recent studies suggest that cannabinoids could improve sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances, and decrease sleep onset latency, says Jessica Peatross, M.D., an internist and functional medicine doctor in San Diego. And though she cautions the research is in its infancy and limited, there is promise, and here’s why.

What Is CBD Again?

Whether you consider yourself well-schooled or are new to the field, here’s a little refresher. CBD is one of two main chemical entities, or cannabinoids (the other one is tetrahydrocannabinol, THC) that come from the cannabis plant.

Contrary to popular belief, CBD does not get you high (unlike THC, which will get you high) because it has no psychoactive properties. CBD is derived both from hemp (cannabis that has 0.3% THC or less) or from marijuana (cannabis with 0.3% THC or greater). Many people report CBD is effective for treating everything from insomnia and anxiety to gastrointestinal problems and chronic pain.

But since it’s not FDA-approved (other than for one specific medication formulated to treat severe childhood epilepsy), it’s largely unregulated, which is why it’s important to have a chat with your doctor before taking it.

CBD and Sleep

To understand how CBD can improve sleep, first you need the 411 on your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). That’s basically your internal command central unit working to regulate just about every necessary function in the body, including mood, appetite, sleep, and circadian rhythms. “The purpose of the endocannabinoid system is to bring homeostasis, or normalcy, to the body,” Dr. Peatross says. “Studies show that people who are deficient in their own endocannabinoid system have insomnia.”

Within the ECS is a network of cannabinoid receptors (molecules that resemble the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant)—the two main ones are known as CB1 and CB2—in the brain and central nervous system. Researchers believe CBD (the supplement) binds to these receptors, slowing the breakdown of the endocannabinoids your body produces to regulate your sleep/wake cycle. “One of the most commonly known endocannabinoids, anandamide, also known as the ‘bliss molecule’, has been found to be elevated during sleep while 2-AG, another endocannabinoid, is found to be elevated during the day,” Hatch says. “When our endocannabinoid system is deficient, it is not able to produce a balanced level of these and our sleep/wake cycle is affected.”

Additionally, CBD may decrease anxiety and pain, both of which can interrupt sleep. In a 2019 study published in The Permanente Journal, adults with anxiety and poor sleep were given 25 mg of CBD in capsule form. Those with anxiety took the CBD in the morning, while people with sleep issues took the dose in the evening. After the first month, anxiety decreased in 79% of participants and sleep improved in 66%.

Pain is another factor that often prevents restful sleep, Hatch says. “Most pain is related to an inflammatory condition and CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory; it regulates the immune system’s inflammatory response.”

Sizing Your CBD Dose

Dosing is a personal thing, and it can take some time to figure out. Hatch suggests starting with the dosage recommendations on the bottle or packaging and titrating up or down from there. “With my patients, I’ve found that at low doses CBD can promote alertness and provide a little get up and go and at higher doses it can be more sedating,” she says.

Dr. Peatross recommends starting with 30-50mg for bedtime and looking for an organic, full-spectrum product with 0.3% THC, which activates what’s known as the entourage effect, or the synergy between of all the plant terpenes and cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

The form you take is also a matter of preference—and symptom. “If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you may find more benefit from an inhalation method, and if staying asleep is the problem, trying an oil or edible that provides a longer duration may be the most effective,” Hatch says.

A Game-Changer for Some

A self-described light sleeper all her life, Lauren Hannon had tried it all—melatonin, which didn’t help keep her asleep or ease her racing mind, ZzzQuil, which knocked her out, but the struggle of getting out of bed the next day made her feel just as tired as if she didn’t sleep. “I’ve historically had issues falling asleep and waking up for hours in the middle of the night. Most of these sleep issues are driven by stress from work and life,” Hannon says.

Ten months ago, Hannon decided to try CBD gummies from Charlotte’s Web. The effects were nearly immediate. “I felt my whole body relax—it was pretty remarkable,” Hannon says. Her optimal dose is 20mg about 30-to-40 minutes before she likes to fall asleep, but finding it was a matter of trial and error. “Initially, I took 30mg and that made me groggy in the morning, so I adjusted it down to 20mg, which is the recommended dosage,” she says.

For Hannon, the experience has been life-changing. “I feel myself relax after 30 minutes and typically sleep through the night, which has helped me feel less stressed and more productive during the day. CBD has really impacted my stress and anxiety to the point where I am now falling asleep and staying asleep for the most part,” Hannon says. “I think it is important for people to not suffer in silence from sleep issues. There is nothing worse than lying awake at night with a racing mind. There are remedies that can change your life—CBD is mine.”

If you're looking to try CBD, talk with your primary care doctor to make sure it doesn't interact with any other drug you might be taking. And if your doc is not well-versed in the subject or reluctant to recommend it, find a doctor who specializes in integrative medicine or check with a national organization like the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association for a provider in your area.

Jennifer Tzeses
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Tzeses

Jennifer Tzeses is a writer and content strategist specializing in health, beauty, psychology and lifestyle. She's written for The Wall Street Journal, Mind Body Green, CNN, Architectural Digest, Barron's, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Psycom, Elle, Marie Claire, and more. Follow her on Instagram @jtzeses.