Have you ever stopped to ponder just how vital sleep truly is?
While we don’t really think about sleep much (unless we’re not getting enough of it), it’s actually one of the most critical bodily processes there is.
It’s essential for restoring our energy, repairing tissues, regulating our immunity, regulating metabolism, and much, much more.
And when we don’t get enough of it, it can be detrimental to our health. In fact, lack of restful sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity, cognitive ability, low sex drive, immunosuppression, risk of diabetes, accidents, recovery from athletic events, wound recovery and mood changes1, 2
How much sleep would you say you get each night? Do you wake up rested and ready to meet the day?
Are you sleeping at least seven hours each night? If you’re like most people, probably not.
Sleep deprivation is a serious problem that has reached epidemic proportions.
If you’re missing out on the sleep you need, you’re certainly not alone. You’re also not alone if you think CBD or other cannabinoids could help.
Countless people turn to cannabinoids to help them get the sleep they need. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons many people use it3.
As we all know, there are two very common cannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp—CBD and THC (though hemp contains much less THC).
When it comes down to it, is it CBD or THC that’s better for sleep?
Before we get into the details, it’s important to understand just how serious a problem lack of sleep really is.
The serious problem of sleep deprivation
According to the most recent research, insufficient sleep results in a loss of more than $400 billion annually4.
The New York Times recently reported that 1.23 million days of work are lost each year in the US due to lack of sleep5.
And as it turns out, Americans are the most sleep-deprived individuals in the world. Lack of sleep is so bad in the US that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic6, 7.
While it’s recommended that adults aged 18-60 get at least seven hours of sleep each night to properly function and promote optimal health and wellbeing, it turns out they’re not getting nearly that.
“As a nation, we are not getting enough sleep,” said the director of CDC’s Division of Population Health8.
Dr. Wayne Giles stated “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”
How much sleep are Americans actually getting?
According to a recent Gallup report, the average American is sleeping to the tune of some 6.8 hours a night9.
Okay, that’s not too much less than the recommended seven hours.
But here’s the thing: 40% of Americans are getting less than six hours of sleep every night.
How important is it to get sufficient sleep? As it turns out, extremely important.
Not getting the sleep you need is linked to some very serious health consequences.
Some of these include:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
That’s not all. Lack of sleep has also shown to kill one’s sex drive, can contribute to feelings of depression, make you forgetful, impairs judgment, and could even increase the risk of death.
There’s more, though.
Research has also linked lack of sleep to several catastrophic events10.
Some of these include vehicular accidents, major industrial and engineering disasters (think the Chernobyl nuclear disaster), and more.
It’s also been suggested that the Challenger space shuttle accident in 1986 was linked to the contribution of human error and poor judgment related to sleep loss.
Getting good sleep is vital. If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who aren’t sleeping enough every night, cannabinoids could help.
And while many people go the natural route and choose cannabis to help them get the sleep they desperately need countless individuals turn to sleeping pills or other medications instead.
Honestly, who could blame them? If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia or had trouble sleeping, you know exactly how much it can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life.
Sleeping pills and other sleep-inducing medications, though, aren’t as safe as we might want them to be—or think they are11.
The serious problems with sleeping pills
We’re going to go ahead and get right to the point.
Were you aware that 10,000 deaths per year are directly caused by (and attributed to) hypnotic drugs? Were you also aware that Americans spent over $3 billion on prescription hypnotics and sedatives, over-the-counter sleeping aids, and herbal remedies in 2016?
In a 2016 review, co-founder of Research at Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center and sleep expert Daniel F. Kripke MD looked at the risks and benefits of hypnotic drugs—ie. Those drugs that can help induce sleep12, 13.
According to the study, the most important risks of hypnotics (sleeping pills) include:
- Excess mortality (especially overdose deaths and quiet deaths at night)
- Automobile crashes
- Falls and other accidents
- Hypnotic-withdrawal insomnia
The paper goes on to state that hypnotics are often prescribed without approved indication, most often with specific contraindications, but even when indicated, there is little or no benefit to them.
It also suggested that the recommended doses increase sleep little if at all, and daytime performance is often made worse and not better. Kripke also contended that the lack of general health benefits is commonly misrepresented in advertising.
What about over-the-counter sleeping pills?
Overall, over-the-counter (OTC) might be safer than prescription hypnotics, but they’ve still got their own set of drawbacks14.
One of the main ingredients in OTC sleep medicine is antihistamine diphenhydramine. Sure, it will help you fall asleep, but it’s not a promise that the sleep you get will be peaceful.
“Usage of diphenhydramine is associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease, though which is the cause and which is effect is certainly unclear,” Kripke told Project CBD.
One well-known aspect of diphenhydramine is that it is anticholinergic [blocks the neurotransmit“ter acetylcholine], which produces some heart symptoms sometimes as well as digestive symptoms such as constipation. In some patients, also, diphenhydramine at night causes rather a lot of daytime sleepiness.” Kripke added.
OTC sleep aids can also be toxic to the liver, as they contain acetaminophen.
Not reading the warning labels on these readily available sleeping pills could prove problematic or even fatal when combined with other medications and/or alcohol. In general, these pills also aren’t designed to be taken for longer than two weeks at a time. Many who take them, however, use them for far longer than a couple of weeks.
Still want to reach for the Tylenol PM or that prescription sleeping pill? Why not consider seeing if cannabinoids like CBD or THC (or a combination) can help instead?
Cannabinoids for sleep: is CBD or THC better?
One of the biggest reasons many people report using cannabinoids is to help them get a good night’s sleep. This is not too surprising—people have been using cannabis for this exact reason for centuries.
In the 18th century, the celebrated medical reference book Materia Medica was published, where cannabis was listed as a “narcotica”.
When cannabis was reestablished in Western medicine by Sir William B. O’ Shaughnessy in 1843, studies were spurred that emphasized the curative properties of “Indian hemp” for sleep problems.
In 1860, German researcher Bernard Fronmueller remarked, “Of all anesthetics ever proposed, Indian hemp is the one which produced a narcotism most closely resembling the natural sleep without causing any extraordinary excitement of the vessels, or any particular suspension of secretions, or without fear of a dangerous reaction, and consecutive paralysis15.”
In a study he conducted almost a decade later, Fronmueller found that out of 1000 study participants with sleep problems, Indian hemp cured 53%, partially cured 21.5%, and had little or no effect in 25.5% 
Both THC and CBD have shown to possess the ability to help improve sleep. The way they work, however, is somewhat different.
Before we get deeper into the difference between CBD and THC, let’s take a look at how the endocannabinoid system plays a major role in sleep.
Sleep and the endocannabinoid system
Were you aware that how we fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up is closely connected to the endocannabinoid system and our own circadian rhythms?
There is actually a strong relationship between the two, which is detected in the sleep-wake cycle changes in anandamide and 2-AG, the brain’s endocannabinoid compounds—those that are made by the human body and bind to the same CB1 and CB2 receptors that but CBD and THC—but in different ways.
There is also a strong relationship to sleep-wake cycles and the enzymes that break these compounds down.
At night, there are higher levels of anandamide in the brain. This compound works with neurotransmitters in the brain to induce sleep.
On the other hand, 2-AG levels are higher during the day, which has led researchers to suggest that this compound is relevant to promoting wakefulness.
Both anandamide and 2-AG have shown to activate CB1 receptors in the central nervous system, including brain areas that are linked to sleep regulation.
Activating CB1 receptors is believed then, to be a critical component in moderating sleep homeostasis or balance16.
Both CBD and THC have a powerful effect on the endocannabinoid system.
Research on which cannabinoid is “better” is a mixed bag17.
Both clinical and anecdotal evidence shows that both can be sedating or alerting depending on how much is taken.
Let’s take a deeper look at both.
CBD vs. THC for sleep
THC AND SLEEP
A 1976 study found that the effects of THC administration for sleep closely resemble those of lithium18.
It’s no secret that THC contains sedating properties. For many people, it’s exactly the nightcap needed to help them get the sleep they need.
Aside from being sedating and helping you fall asleep faster, THC could be beneficial for sleep apnea, as evidence shows it can improve breathing during sleep19.
If you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep, THC could be just what you need to fall into a deep slumber.
Here’s the thing, though. While THC has shown to help you fall asleep faster, it
also has an effect on the quality of sleep you get once you doze off. THC has shown to alter the time you spend in the different stages of sleep, particularly reducing the time that is spent in REM sleep. It also increases the time one spends in slow-wave sleep17.
REM sleep is where we dream. Because THC reduces the time we spend in REM, it also reduces how much we dream.
For people who suffer from nightmares and unpleasant dreams, as in PTSD, this can obviously be a tremendous benefit of using THC for sleep.
On the other hand, in REM sleep the brain processes and integrates memories and emotions, which is vital for learning and higher-level thinking. Decreased REM sleep can result in decreased cognitive and social processing, lead to difficulty concentrating, and cause problems with memory. Not good.
Here’s something else to consider when it comes to THC and sleep. While the occasional user might find THC to be beneficial, chronic or long-term use of THC has actually shown to disrupt sleep.
A 2016 study found that daily marijuana users scored higher on insomnia severity index and sleep disturbance measures than those who did not smoke weed every day20.
The study found that heavy (or daily) marijuana use is largely associated with sleep difficulties. According to the authors of the study, “Study participants who didn't smoke every day usually smoked in the evening.
But once you're smoking multiple times a day, there's a greater chance that you'll report disturbed sleep.
Only by stopping marijuana completely, and waiting some time without using at all, will a person be able to determine how marijuana was affecting, or not affecting, his or her sleep.”
CBD AND SLEEP
Unlike THC, CBD is NOT intoxicating—it will NOT give you a “high”.
The non-psychoactive cannabinoid is actually shown to increase wakefulness. Instead of acting as a sedative, CBD is shown to work as a wake-promoting substance. So, how exactly then, can CBD help you get a better night’s sleep?
It all comes down to the way the cannabinoid works with the body’s own endocannabinoid system.
We just covered how the endocannabinoid system is intricately linked to our sleep patterns. And as we’ve learned in the past, CBD is excellent for supporting the balance or homeostasis of the endocannabinoid system.
Not only is CBD helpful for promoting wakefulness, but it’s also been shown to help people fall asleep and stay asleep…as well as stay awake the next day17.
Some researchers contend that CBD could actually be a powerful agent for individuals with narcolepsy or who suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness21.
A 2017 review found that preliminary research suggests that CBD could also have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia17. The review noted that THC could decrease sleep latency but in the long-term could actually impair sleep quality. It also highlighted that CBD shows promise for REM sleep behavior disorder (the acting out of intense, vivid, and sometimes violent dreams). CBD is also very useful for “mellowing you out”, increasing calm and helping you relax without the high associated with THC. However, you should be aware that high doses of CBD can be too sedative for some people.
To avoid any unpleasant side effects, most people carefully start with a small serving size dose of CBD and only increase the dose gradually if needed. In other words, Start Low and Go Slow!
Not everyone enjoys the psychoactive effects of marijuana, which makes CBD an excellent alternative.
In addition, THC can actually make you feel groggy when you wake up, but CBD is less likely to cause this side effect.
When to Take CBD For Sleep?
People who do use CBD for sleep usually take their desired amount up to 1-2 hours before bed, allowing the CBD to be fully absorbed by the body.
We don't recommend taking it when you still have things you want to get done. Take it when you're ready to start winding down your night, the time when you might start watching an episode of your favorite Netflix series.
What is the best CBD:THC ratio for sleep?
When it comes to the right dose of CBD (and THC) for getting better sleep, everyone is different.
Cannabinoids are a highly personalized medicine and what works for one person, doesn’t always work for the next. Both CBD and THC can help you get to sleep. For most people the range is between 2:1 (CBD:THC) and 1:2 (CBD:THC).
Full-spectrum CBD hemp products are considered CBD dominant with typical ratios of 20:1 (or more) CBD to THC.
Which is better?
Ultimately, that’s up to you to decide…but our research leads us to believe that overall CBD could be better. This is especially for the majority of the population, as well as those who don’t enjoy the psychoactive effects THC contains.
Keep in mind the choice between THC and CBD doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive!
Yes, it’s true: you really can have the best of both worlds.
There are tons of products on the market (where legal access to THC is permitted for medicinal or recreational use) which are balanced blends of THC and CBD.
CBD is known to mellow out the negative side effects people often experience with THC (anxiety, paranoia, or “getting too high”).
For more information on the research into this critical subject, read our article: How Effective is CBD for Sleep? which includes a Q&A with CBD expert, Dr. Rachna Patel.
We also review several CBD products designed specifically for sleep here: 10 CBD for Sleep Products Reviewed.
Have you tried CBD or THC to help you sleep? If so, which do you prefer?
We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
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