How Cannabis Affects Your Sleep Cycles
Many people use cannabis, especially indica strains, as a sleep aid. Cannabis can help people fall asleep and stay asleep longer, which is beneficial for those who have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia.
However, what actually happens when you sleep high? How does cannabis affect sleep patterns and cycles? Let's take a closer look.
How Cannabis Helps You Fall Asleep
Sleep is vital for both physical and mental health. During sleep, the body repairs itself and consolidates memories. Not getting enough quality sleep can lead to a weakened immune system, impaired cognitive function, and even weight gain.
Sleep typically follows a cycle through different stages, including light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs. Disruptions to this cycle can have negative effects.
When you smoke or ingest indica strains of cannabis before bed, it acts as a sedative, inducing relaxation and drowsiness. The main active ingredient, THC, alters your brain chemistry, interacting with cannabinoid receptors. This affects areas that regulate sleep, resulting in you feeling tired. Strong indica strains will make you feel very relaxed and sleepy, allowing you to fall asleep more easily.
Cannabis Disrupts Your Natural Sleep Stages
Once asleep, THC reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. It also appears to reduce time spent in deep sleep. However, cannabis may increase total sleep time. A 1975 study found THC significantly increased the amount of slow-wave sleep in those with insomnia.
So, while the quality of sleep may suffer, the duration increases, which helps those who have trouble staying asleep through the night.
This increase in total sleep when using cannabis as a sleep aid may only be temporary. With regular use, tolerance builds, and the sedative effects may diminish. Some studies indicate that over time, REM sleep rebound occurs when use is stopped, often leading to vivid dreams. Withdrawal symptoms like disturbing dreams and insomnia have been reported with heavy use. This indicates cannabis disrupts normal REM cycles.
The Risks of Using Cannabis as a Sleep Aid
There are some other risks associated with overusing cannabis as a sleep aid. THC remains in the system for days or weeks with regular use. Being constantly intoxicated can impair daily function, especially cognitive abilities. Relying on cannabis to sleep long-term may also prevent addressing underlying conditions disrupting sleep, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or anxiety.
Indicas vs Sativas: How Different Strains Affect Sleep Differently
While indica strains allow you to fall asleep faster, sativa strains will produce more of an energetic, uplifting high. For those using cannabis medicinally for PTSD, sativas may exacerbate anxiety and insomnia symptoms at night. Those with PTSD are also more likely to experience disturbing dreams and nightmares. Cannabis withdrawal after quitting may also temporarily increase these symptoms.
However, one study found synthetic oral THC reduced disturbing dreams in those with PTSD. More research is still needed, but this indicates cannabis could potentially suppress REM sleep and dreams, which may benefit some groups. Appropriate strains and dosages are important.
Indicas vs Sativas: Weighing the Long-Term Impact on Sleep
Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) face particular challenges with sleep. Their symptoms can lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep. The nightmares and anxiety associated with PTSD further disrupt the natural sleep cycle.
In the short term, cannabis may help some with PTSD fall asleep faster and sleep longer by reducing REM sleep. However, REM sleep is important for processing memories and events. Suppressing dreaming activity long-term may interfere with working through trauma. While cannabis may provide temporary relief for some, addressing the root cause through counseling should be the priority for managing PTSD.
Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is vital for quality rest. Using cannabis occasionally before bedtime is unlikely to disrupt your schedule. However, relying on it nightly can lead to dependence, making it difficult to maintain your desired bedtime without being high.
Avoid using cannabis a few hours before your intended bedtime so the effects have time to wear off. associate sleepiness with your regular bedtime routine instead of cannabis intoxication. Getting into a stable sleep schedule and saying good night to cannabis will provide better rest in the long run.
While indica and sativa strains affect people differently, both can potentially alter normal REM cycles with extended use. The sedating qualities of indicas may minimize unwanted effects on sleep architecture for some.
But sleep quality could still suffer in the long run. Occasionally using cannabis to sleep is unlikely to cause significant issues. However, moderation and being mindful of strains and dosage is advised, especially for those with underlying health conditions. As with any sleep aid, addressing the root causes of insomnia remains imperative.
Is 5mg of THC Enough to Help You Sleep? Starting Low and Slow
The amount of THC needed to aid sleep varies by individual. For new cannabis users or those with low tolerances, as little as 5mg of THC can provide decent sedation. The vast majority of people should feel drowsy effects after ingesting a 5mg THC edible or dose. However, regular users often develop a tolerance and may require higher doses to feel sleepy.
Those already using cannabis to sleep likely need at least 10-30mg. For managing conditions like insomnia, anxiety or chronic pain that disrupt sleep, higher doses around 50-100mg may be warranted.
However, it's best to start low with 5-10mg when using THC as a sleep aid. Give it time to take effect before increasing the dosage. Less is often more when it comes to cannabis helping initiate sleep.
The Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Sleep
The side effects of extended cannabis use on natural sleep cycles and patterns are not yet fully understood. More research is still needed, but possible long-term effects include impaired sleep quality, reduced REM sleep, insomnia, and dependence on the drug to help sleep. These side effects appear most pronounced in heavy users.
Occasional Use is Likely Safe for Most People
While cannabis may help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer, it reduces REM sleep. Withdrawal after regular use often temporarily increases REM sleep, which can cause vivid dreams or nightmares. Long-term use can also lead to insomnia. However, occasional, moderate use as a sleep aid is generally considered safe for most people. Sticking to indica strains and proper dosages can minimize unwanted side effects. As with any sleep aid, addressing root causes of insomnia and maintaining good sleep hygiene should be the priority.