Can CBD Help You Sleep?

7 Min Read | By Lewis Ridley

Last Modified 1 June 2023   First Added 27 January 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Struggling to sleep or suffering from insomnia? If you’ve been on the hunt for a solution, you may have come across the recommendation to take CBD (cannabidiol) for sleep.

It’s true, there have been reported benefits of taking CBD for sleep. However, the results are mixed. As with many natural treatments, the science behind whether they work is still up for debate. That’s because, despite studies, research is still in the early phases and nobody can say with absolute certainty that CBD does help with sleep.

Here, we’ll break down everything you need to know about CBD for sleep and the research that’s been undertaken so far.

image of six bottles of cbd oil for sleep

Read more: What Is Insomnia and Can You Cure It?

What is CBD?

CBD is the abbreviation of cannabidiol, which is one of the key cannabinoids in cannabis. However, this component is not psychoactive, unlike cannabis. That’s because cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) whereas CBD doesn’t. With CBD, you won’t get the “high” feeling you’d commonly expect with normal cannabis products. It’s also why CBD is legal in the UK, so long as it doesn’t contain more than 0.2% THC. It’s worth noting here that the body creates its own cannabinoids and actually needs them to function.

How does CBD affect sleep?

CBD interacts with your endocannabinoid system inside your body. It’s this bodily system which is responsible for maintaining balance and stability. It also plays a role in how we sleep. Throughout the years, CBD has been found to have some effective health benefits, particularly in regard to epileptic seizures and chronic pain. In recent times, it’s been suggested CBD may contain the key to unlocking improved sleep. Research is still in its early days and much is anecdotal. Yet, there are promising results and there’s certainly more to discover with this natural chemical.

image of scientist in laboratory looking at CBD for sleep

What does scientific research say about CBD for sleep?

While still in its infancy, research around CBD for sleep is promising. However, at present, most of the effects of CBD are related to fixing the causes of poor sleep, rather than a magic fix for getting us to nod off.

Anxiety, for example, is a potential cause of poor sleep and insomnia. Although it is a separate condition that CBD may help with, it still has a profound impact on one’s ability to get a good night’s rest.

Research on CBD for sleep and anxiety is young. Nonetheless, one study found a 79% decrease in anxiety scores and a 66% increase in sleep scores within one month of CBD usage. They concluded there may be some benefit of CBD for individuals suffering from anxiety-related disorders and the poor sleep that comes from this.

Read more: How To Reduce Anxiety for a Better Night’s Sleep

In an exclusive statement for The Sleep Matters Club, Colin Kelley, President of SOAR further notes:

“While CBD may not encourage sleep directly, studies have shown that it may help to regulate cortisol – one of our stress hormones.”

If stress or restless thoughts are keeping you up at night, CBD may be able to promote calm and relaxation, making it easier to fall asleep and potentially improving your overall sleep quality throughout the night.”

Pain can also be a cause of poor sleeping habits. Lo and behold, CBD has been suggested to be an effective strategy for pain. A review in 2018 found a good amount of evidence to suggest CBD can soothe pain, with specific references to neuropathic, cancer, and inflammatory pain. All of which can negatively contribute to a poor night’s sleep.

“In the long run, CBD can interact with brain receptors that dictate our sleeping cycle” Dr Ava Williams, a primary care doctor at Doctor Spring,  told The Sleep Matters Club.

Evidence supporting this comes from a small-scale study in 2014 and a more recent literature review in 2017. Both of these discovered evidence suggesting CBD may alleviate symptoms of REM Behaviour Disorder (RBD). A disorder which results in individuals acting out their dreams. There was also evidence that CBD could help manage daytime sleepiness and increase alertness.

A word of caution

Although all of this evidence may sound promising, it’s important to remain critical. Many of these studies supporting the use of CBD were performed on animals, such as mice and dogs.

It’s also important to remember the scientific research is still being fleshed out. CBD and its impact on sleep is not an open-shut case.

However, as well as scientific evidence, other evidence comes anecdotally.

Net Doctor spoke to Healthspan Medical Director Dr Sarah Brewer, who takes CBD oil for sleep. She reported feeling more relaxed and experiencing deeper sleep.

If you do more research and decide to give it a try, be sure to keep a record of the effects and consult your GP if you have any concerns.

How does CBD work to improve sleep?

To repeat what was mentioned above, CBD probably doesn’t tackle sleep directly. Instead, it tackles the causes of poor sleep. Therefore, it’s difficult to make any reliable assumptions to how CBD is impacting our biology specifically.

Saying this, experts like Dr Ava William suggest CBD “has the ability to activate serotonin receptors and increase the overall levels, which can help a person relax.” And as we all know, relaxation is definitely a step in the right direction to improving your sleeping.

A big part of the CBD effect on sleep is to do with neurology: how the brain affects our body. Quite simply, CBD reacts with a wide range of receptors in our brain. It’s one of the few natural chemicals that do so. The important thing here is that certain issues which affect our sleep, anxiety, for example, also affect multiple parts of the brain. Certain researchers believe that this wide-ranging effect of CBD matches the wide-ranging effects of anxiety. So help in reducing anxiety then helps us sleep. Here’s what Nick Jikomes, a Doctor of Neuroscience and Director of Science & Innovation at Leafly, had to say:

“Understanding CBD’s neurological effects is a complicated business, because of the wide variety of receptors with which it interacts.  But that complexity may be the key to its promise as a therapeutic agent. Motivational disorders like addiction and anxiety are themselves highly complex; they arise from incompletely understood causes that span multiple receptor systems and neural networks in the brain. CBD’s complex, multi-target effects may therefore be crucial to its potential for aiding the treatment of such disorders. Over the coming years, researchers will continue to further understand this complexity and uncover the full scope of CBD’s therapeutic potential.”

As identified by Nick, research on CBD for sleep is still underway and there’s much more to learn about its therapeutic potential. With more research, a greater understanding of how CBD interacts with our bodies can be achieved and will provide a clearer explanation to how it can improve our sleep.

Does CBD have any health risks?

According to the World Health Organisation, CBD doesn’t have the potential to cause harm to human health. Additional evidence for this comes from a 2017 review of cannabidiol side effects, which concluded similar findings.

However, it’s important to remain cautious and tread lightly if you plan to use CBD oil or tablets to help you sleep. It’s recommended to speak to your doctor first and to avoid CBD if you are pregnant or lactating. If you decide to try it, make sure you pay attention to how your body reacts and either stop taking it or adapt your dosages if you see any adverse side effects.

Closing thoughts on CBD for sleep…

How CBD affects sleep is still a new field of study and most of the findings are still being backed up and tested. More research is needed to confirm and test the findings that we currently have available. Nonetheless, the existing research does suggest that CBD may be a viable solution for those who struggle with sleep. The most important thing to take away from this article is to make sure you do your research and speak to health professionals before you implement CBD into your sleep routine.

If you have any questions or feel like we missed something out, please leave a comment below!

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