Sleep is funny – it’s something we avoided in our younger days, dodging naps and begging to stay up past bedtime. Fast forward to adulthood, and it’s one of our favorite hobbies. But, even though we adore it, we don’t always get enough of it – the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night; teenagers require more (clearly) while seniors require a bit less.
For some of us, this sleep comes easy – we hit the hay, we hit the pillow, and, before we know it, we’re hitting the snooze button at six a.m. But for others, sleep proves elusive; we toss and turn so much that we wake up tired from our workout.
Cannabis is something that can help people who find themselves unable to rest. Certain strains are well-known to induce sleep faster than a history lecture on how the steamboat came to be. But Mary Jane isn’t always an ally to Mr. Sandman. In regards to sleep, weed comes with both good and bad news.
Cannabis and REM Sleep
REM sleep is the final stage of sleep (it may also be the type of sleep you experience if you doze off listening to the album “Automatic for the People”). REM is believed to be a vital part of sleep because of its link to the restorative process. Per the National Institutes of Health,
“During REM sleep, your brain and body are energized and dreaming occurs. REM is thought to be involved in the process of storing memories, learning, and balancing your mood, although the exact mechanisms are not well understood.”
Marijuana, according to the Colorado Pot Guide, tends to reduce REM sleep, explaining why people dream less when they’re stoned. The reason behind this is believed to be related to dopamine – cannabis can block its response. In this way, cannabis isn’t beneficial – REM may help regulate neurotransmitter levels and body temperature and rid our body of toxins. If weed blocks REM sleep, it blocks the perks of it as well.
Indica versus Sativa
But wait: there’s more! Not all cannabis affects your sleep the same way. CBD and THC, the two main cannabinoids in weed, play different parts in singing you a lullaby, as do indicas versus sativas. CBD doesn’t appear to mess with sleep the way THC can, perhaps because it’s non-psychoactive. But it’s the choice between indica or sativa that truly appears to make a difference.
In most people’s experience, indicas like Lemon Diesel are better sleep inducers than sativas: where sativas are like a house party, indicas are more of a Tupperware party. It’s theorized that indicas are better at promoting rest because of their terpene content –
Indicas contain sedating and relaxing terpenes while sativas contain terpenes that are energizing
Of course, this isn’t the only factor – some studies suggest that older cannabis helps you sleep too. The THC in marijuana tends to degrade, eventually converting into CBN (or cannabinol). CBN is more sedating than THC. Yet, in order to reap these calming effects, the marijuana needs to be fairly old – years instead of months. Buying marijuana and then leaving it alone for that long doesn’t seem all that likely – you’re lucky to get home from the pot shop before ripping the package open.
An easier option lies, as mentioned above, in the right strain – your budtender can point you in the direction of the types of cannabis that will leave you snoring in all your glory. If those don’t work, some people find that using other sleep aids as supplements – things like chamomile tea or warm milk – can help with efficiency.
Cannabis Use in Younger People
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how cannabis influences developing brains in ways that it doesn’t influence brains that are already established. Science suggest that weed may be harmful to people who use it as teenagers or young adults. And it may affect sleep. A 2014 study conducted at Penn Medicine found that teenagers who use marijuana may set themselves up for sleep problems later in life. The study found that, “Any history of cannabis use was associated with an increased likelihood of reporting difficulty falling asleep, struggling to maintain sleep, experiencing non-restorative sleep, and feeling daytime sleepiness. The strongest association was found in adults who started marijuana use before age 15; they were about twice as likely to have severe problems falling asleep, experiencing non-restorative sleep, and feeling overly sleepy during the day.”
Even when starting young, many people don’t experience sleep issues until they become full-fledged adults. This isn’t all that surprising, given that the average teenager could fall asleep in the mosh pit at a heavy metal concert.
However, the study above isn’t conclusive as it doesn’t prove causation. There are many things that can disrupt sleep and cannabis may only be a factor or not much of a factor at all. Like the running theme of most marijuana studies, more research is needed.
Cannabis and Sleep Apnea
Weed and rest involves some good news too – marijuana could help decrease sleep apnea, a condition marked by obstruction of breath that can last from a second or two to more than a minute. Because of this variation, sleep apnea can be minor or severe. At a minimum, it disrupts sleep and leaves people drowsy during waking hours. More serious implications include heart disease, mood disturbances, and increased susceptibility to accidents.
There are things that help sleep apnea – a CPAP machine or lifestyle changes (smoking and obesity are linked to obstructive sleep apnea), but dope my do it too. One study linked weed’s power to its ability to modulate serotonin.
Serotonin can exacerbate apnea; thus, anything that regulates it also helps regulate the conditions it compounds
There are many people who use marijuana as a sleep aid, particularly those who suffer from health conditions and turn towards medical weed for answers. Cannabis might help you sleep or it might not. Studies suggest what works for the majority but do nothing to predict individual outcomes. So, if you’re interested in using dope to doze, talk to your dispensary about your symptoms. They offer advice, but beware that it may take some experimenting before you find a strain that facilitates rest. You might need something more or less potent, something high in CBD or THC, or something that contains a specific terpene. It may take some effort to find the right reefer that turns you into a sleeper.