How Does Smoking Weed Before Bed Affect My Sleep?
If you speak to someone who has suffered from insomnia at all as an adult, chances are good that person has either tried using marijuana for sleep or has thought about it.
This is reflected in the many variations of cannabinoid or cannabis-based medicines available to improve sleep like Nabilone, Dronabinol and Marinol. It’s also a common reason why many cannabis users seek medical marijuana cards.
I am a sleep psychologist who has treated hundreds of patients with insomnia, and it seems to me the success of cannabis as a sleep aid is highly individual. What makes cannabis effective for one person’s sleep and not another’s?
While there are still many questions to be answered, existing research suggests that the effects of cannabis on sleep may depend on many factors, including individual differences, cannabis concentrations and frequency of use.
Cannabis and sleep
Access to cannabis is increasing. As of last November, 28 US states and the District of Columbia had legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Research on the effects of cannabis on sleep in humans has largely been made up of somewhat inconsistent studies conducted in the 1970s. Researchers seeking to learn how cannabis affects the sleeping brain have studied volunteers in the sleep laboratory and measured sleep stages and sleep continuity. Some studies showed that users’ ability to fall and stay asleep improved. A small number of subjects also had a slight increase in slow wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep.
However, once nightly cannabis use stops, sleep clearly worsens across the withdrawal period.
Over the past decade, research has focused more on the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Individuals with insomnia tend to use medical cannabis for sleep at a high rate. Up to 65 percent of former cannabis users identified poor sleep as a reason for relapsing. Use for sleep is particularly common in individuals with PTSD and pain.
This research suggests that, while motivation to use cannabis for sleep is high, and might initially be beneficial to sleep, these improvements might wane with chronic use over time.
Does frequency matter?
We were interested in how sleep quality differs between daily cannabis users, occasional users who smoked at least once in the last month and people who don’t smoke at all.
We asked 98 mostly young and healthy male volunteers to answer surveys, keep daily sleep diaries and wear accelerometers for one week. Accelerometers, or actigraphs, measure activity patterns across multiple days. Throughout the study, subjects used cannabis as they typically would.
Our results show that the frequency of use seems to be an important factor as it relates to the effects on sleep. Thirty-nine percent of daily users complained of clinically significant insomnia. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of occasional users had insomnia complaints. There were no differences in sleep complaints between nonusers and nondaily users.
Interestingly, when controlling for the presence of anxiety and depression, the differences disappeared. This suggests that cannabis’s effect on sleep may differ depending on whether you have depression or anxiety. In order words, if you have depression, cannabis may help you sleep – but if you don’t, cannabis may hurt.
Cannabis is still a schedule I substance, meaning that the government does not consider cannabis to be medically therapeutic due to lack of research to support its benefits. This creates a barrier to research, as only one university in the country, University of Mississippi, is permitted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to grow marijuana for research.
New areas for exploration in the field of cannabis research might examine how various cannabis subspecies influence sleep and how this may differ between individuals.
One research group has been exploring cannabis types and cannabinoid concentrations that are preferable depending on one’s sleep disturbance. For example, one strain might relieve insomnia, while another can affect nightmares.
Other studies suggest that medical cannabis users with insomnia tend to prefer higher concentrations of cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating ingredient in cannabis.
This raises an important question. Should the medical community communicate these findings to patients with insomnia who inquire about medical cannabis? Some health professionals may not feel comfortable due to the fluctuating legal status, a lack of confidence in the state of the science or their personal opinions.
At this point, cannabis’s effect on sleep seems highly variable, depending on the person, the timing of use, the cannabis type and concentration, mode of ingestion and other factors. Perhaps the future will yield more fruitful discoveries.
Deirdre Conroy is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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The if and how might depend on whether you have insomnia, depression, or anxiety.
How Cannabis Affects Sleep Patterns
Monday March 2, 2015
Cannabis is commonly used as a sleep aid because it has been shown to both reduce the onset of sleep and increase its over-all duration without causing the user to feel excessively groggy they next day. However, when excessive cannabis use is ceased, users often report difficulty sleeping and more vivid dreams when they do. This implies a correlation between cannabis use and sleep patterns, but the details are still vague.
To understand more about how marijuana can affect sleep, it’s important to understand a few basic facts about the spectrum of cannabis strains. On one end of the spectrum are Sativa-dominant strains whose characteristic tend to be more uplifting, creative and energetic. On the other end of the spectrum are Indicas, characteristics of which tend to be more relaxing and analgesic.
While heavy Indica strains, such as Afghani or Granddanny Purp will work wonders for insomnia, other strains like a Durban Poison or Jack Herer will likely have the opposite effect. Anyone concerned about falling asleep should therefore avoid sativa-heavy strains at least a few hours prior to bedtime.
Once it’s time to hit the sack, marijuana users can expect to toss and turn for less time, and stay asleep longer once they’re there. What happens during that time however, is a bit more complex.
Marijuana and the stages of sleep
Pot does more than just help a person fall asleep. In fact, the whole sleep process is very involved, cycling between the different stages throughout the night, each with their own health benefits. Marijuana can affect both the duration and intensity of each of these stages.
The first stage of sleep, which is the initial time it takes to fall asleep to begin with, is a time for the body to transition into a comfortable sleep. This stage usually lasts for an average of seven minutes, but could take longer if someone is experiencing stress or pain. Since marijuana has been shown to relieve both of those symptoms, it seems only natural that it would promote relaxation in addition to its sedative effects.
The second stage is that of light sleep, during which the sleeper is easily woken. This sleep cycle seems to be the least affected by cannabis.
Stages three and four are often referred to as a single cycle, and involve what is called slow wave sleep (SWS). This stage, which seems to be the most restorative of the four phases, is lengthened as a result of cannabis use. This may contribute to an increased reduction of the plaque, beta-amyloid, which is commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, though more research is needed to be sure.
Consuming marijuana reduces REM sleep
The final stage of sleep is REM sleep, during which dreams occur. Marijuana reduces REM sleep, thus greatly reducing the occurrence of dreaming. Though we are unsure why, it is possible that this is because of marijuana’s tendency to blunt dopamine response. Dopamine, which is responsible for directing our attention, also plays a valuable role during sleep by creating dreams (and helping you pay attention to them). This not only helps explain why we tend not to dream when stoned, but why ceasing cannabis use tends to make dreams return with a vengeance; users gain sensitivity to dopamine again, sometimes at an unsettling level.
The purpose of REM sleep, however, is still up for debate. Some speculate that REM sleep helps us regulate neurotransmitter levels and body temperature, while others suggest that the purpose is more closely related to memory retention. A third theory suggests that dreams could be our body’s way of keeping our brain busy while the clean-up crew is at work flushing out toxins. Whatever the reason for dreams, marijuana users seem to have fewer and less recollection of them later, indicating that the natural sleep cycle is, in fact, disturbed by regular marijuana use and that cessation of cannabis use could have a rebound effect on dreams.
Marijuana may help treat sleep apnea
While the lack of dreams may seem like a definite draw-back to some, keep in mind that it is during REM sleep that most sleep disturbances associated with sleep apnea occur. Sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by interrupted breathing patterns during sleep, affects millions of Americans resulting a overly sleepy (and thus dangerous) society. A 2002 study, however, suggests that cannabinoids could offer a “potent suppression for sleep-related apnea”.
According to a 2013 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “. Δ9-TetraHydroCannabinol (Δ9THC) stabilizes autonomic output during sleep, reduces spontaneous sleep-disordered breathing, and blocks serotonin-induced exacerbation of sleep apnea.” Building off of this, the researchers went on to find that dronabinol, a man-made form of THC, did, in fact, improve sleeping conditions for 17 adults suffering from obstructive sleep apnea without reducing quality of sleep. Though the study was small, the implications of this are huge.
Because sleep apnea reduces sleep efficiency, over 22 million Americans who suffer from the disease notoriously work, drive and communicate while sleep deprived. This can result in lost productivity at work, increased hazards on the road and a breakdown of interpersonal relationships. If THC (synthetic or not) can help treat the disease, then millions of Americans may finally be able to sleep well again.
Marijuana withdraw and problems sleeping
Many heavy marijuana users report difficulty sleeping once they’ve ceased use. These problems include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and the phenomenon known as REM rebound or very vivid (often anxiety-inducing) dreams. This are typical withdraw symptoms (which closely mimic nicotine withdraw) and can last only a few days to as many as six or seven weeks.
Smoking a bowl at the end of the day is not an uncommon way to relax and ultimately sleep. But regular use of cannabis can affect one’s sleep cycle in a number of ways, both good and bad.
Does marijuana affect your sleeping patterns? Would you suggest THC pills to someone suffering from sleep apnea? We’d love to hear about it.
Marijuana is commonly used as a sleep aid, however, many people don't understand how cannabis can impact your sleep patterns and health. Learn more about the relationship between sleeping and marijuana.