Does CBD Oil Help Sleep?

Why Sleep Is Important 

I'm sure you are wanting to get straight to the good stuff, and you are probably asking, does cbd oil really help you sleep!? But first let’s get some content on sleep. 

Sleep is often said to be the best medicine, due to its ability to revive and rejuvenate us each and every day. There simply is no compromise on missing out on it. 

For anyone who is facing a chronic disease or serious health issue, missing out on good sleep is simply not an option as this is essential for their recovery. Losing out on good sleep is a stressor to the mind and the body that eventually weighs heavily on them over the course of time. 

Without enough sleep, many bodily processes and biological rhythms suffer as a consequence. One of these is hormonal balance, particularly ones that control our body clocks, and levels of stress. 

You might have heard of cortisol, which is one of the hormones which controls alertness, stress and the mobilization of energy. In cases of bad sleep or sleep deprivation, cortisol balance - the amount produced and the times when it is produced can become asynchronous. 

It’s important that cortisol is produced mostly in the morning, to help provide that get up and go, and then tapers off in the evening to help encourage sleep. However, bad sleep is associated with elevations in cortisol in the evenings, either due to already being out of sync, or engaging in cortisol spiking activities such as screen time, stressful tasks or vigorous exercise. 

Having high levels of cortisol over long periods of time is not good for health in general, and can cause a lot of negative knock on effects on the mind and body. 

For one, it means that it’s hard to get quality sleep, but also can underlie mood disturbances, loss of muscle mass, memory problems and metabolic problems. 

Having high cortisol is basically an indicator that stress is present in some form or another within a person's life. It comes in many forms: financial, emotional, romantic and mental stress all pitch in to raise cortisol. 

When cortisol is high for an extended period, it can be a problem for these reasons. 

  • It can degrade muscle tissue (*). Muscle mass is is key for encouraging good long term health and longevity. 
  • Cortisol is anti-inflammatory, and has a role in promoting strong immunity. However, too much can suppress the immune system (*). It’s why stressed people are often prone to getting colds etc when they are run down. 
  • Cortisol is an opposing force to insulin and testosterone. These two hormones are necessary for both metabolic and mental wellness. 
  • High cortisol disrupts blood sugar balance, and causes elevations whilst also discouraging muscles from absorbing it from the blood stream (*). 
  • High cortisol in the evenings makes it hard to get to, and maintain good sleep (*)
  • Cortisol also disrupts melatonin production, which is a sleep inducing hormone. 

Now that we know a bit about cortisol, we can now look at what relationship CBD has with it when it comes to sleep. 

The Endocannabinoid System, CBD & Sleep

Cortisol is part of a hormonal network called the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis. The hormonal messages sent via this network control stress responses and whether it is safe to sleep or not. 

The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) oversees how the HPA axis is working, and how much cortisol is being produced. Therefore, the ECS plays a direct role in the promotion, maintenance and quality of sleep. 

This means that through the ECS that CBD can influence sleep by regulating cortisol production. There are CB1 receptors located on both the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which enables CBD to effectively control and put the brakes on cortisol, and therefore stress - which helps promote sleep. 

One of the reasons CBD oil is good for sleep comes from its interaction with the ECS, and its ability to produce a sleep-inducing endocannabinoid called Anandamide. 

Anandamide plugs into CB1 receptors in the brain (hypothalamus), which then causes a subsequent reduction in cortisol release from the adrenal glands (*). This is just one way CBD helps sleep. 

But, CBD goes much further than that, and can actually control sleep directly through Anandamide, irrespective of cortisol production. 

CB1 is also found on all sorts of neurons in the brain which regulate neurotransmitter systems, such as GABA, Glutamate, Serotonin and Dopamine (*). This means that compounds that Anandamide (released because of CBD) can control diverse functions within the brain, including sleep.

When Anandamide activates CB1, sleep can be initiated by activating neurons that encourage sleep (GABA) and suppressing the wakefulness promoting ones (serotonin) (*).

  • Studies have shown that when Anandamide is given to rats, it decreased wakefulness and increased sleep (*), (*).
  • Also, blocking the CB1 receptor pharmacologically has shown to increase the time spent awake (*),(*).
  • Additionally, mice with genetic removal of CB1 gene also spent more time awake than normal mice (*).

Anandamide also promotes sleep by reducing evening cortisol surges. Mice with genetic removal of CB1 gene have much higher evening corticosterone (cortisol) (*). Higher cortisol in the evening also discourages melatonin production, which is a hormone that’s needed to promote sleep. 

These studies basically prove that tinkering with Anandamide and CB1 significantly alters sleep patterns, which tells us the ECS is a powerful regulator of sleep. That means that CBD can also be a powerful regulator of sleep, because of its ability to control the ECS. 

The mechanisms above are evidence that the ECS can control sleep. Now here’s how CBD works for sleep, and acts as a natural sleep remedy

  • CBD (large dose) has been shown to help sleep. CBD increases Anandamide levels, by reducing its breakdown. Anandamide helps sleep and controls sleep architecture by binding CB1 (*).
  • CBD increases total sleep time and slow wave sleep in rats (*).
  • CBD increases REM sleep (*), helping sleep quality.

We will now look at real life evidence to support this further. 

CBD for Sleep: Studies

Cannabinoids like CBD have been shown to reduce stress by reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol (*) in animals. CBD has also been shown to alter cortisol secretion in people (*)

Reductions and alterations in cortisol are great, but in terms of symptoms what kind of effect does CBD have? 

Well, CBD reduces anxiety (*), (*), (*), (*) and improves sleep in individuals with clinical sleep disorders (*), (*), (*). We can expect these sleep improvements come due to reductions in anxiety, perhaps due to better cortisol regulation. 

CBD also helps support sleep by controlling sleep cycles - how much, how deep and overall quality of sleep by controlling the ECS. 

The ECS works in sync with day and night cycles, and it modifies its activity depending on whether it is night or daytime. 

By tweaking its activity based on whether it’s day or night, the ECS syncs up the natural rhythms of night and dayWe  to our body clocks. Meaning that we respond in synchrony with the daily light and dark rhythms as we are supposed to. 

The ECS is also sensitive to environmental inputs which can affect our body clocks. Exposure to light, food, and socializing impacts the ECS - because they are all ‘timekeeping’ stimuli. They ensure our body clocks maintain synchrony with the Earth’s 24 hour cycle.  

Having meals late in the evening throws off the ECS, as well as looking at phones and bright lights before bed. 

The ECS keeps the connection between sleep cycles and body clocks, keeping them in sync with night and day so that sleep is maintained every night, when it should be. 

Sometimes, the ECS can become imbalanced due to environmental insults, like lack of exercise, bad food, stress, trauma, and infections. A disrupted ECS can then lead to bad sleep. 

Some diseases which involve sleep disturbances such as PTSD, Parkinsons and Sleep deprivation also come with ECS imbalances. 

Here are a few studies where CBD has shown promise for sleep thus far. 

In one case series at a psychiatric clinic, 25 psychiatric patients with sleep disorders taking 25 – 75mg CBD /day improved subjective sleep scores by 28% after 3 months (*). But, in 47 other psychiatric patients without sleep issues the CBD had less effect. This tells us CBD’s impact is based on the severity of sleep disorder. 

Also, clinical trial gave 160mg CBD to 15 insomniacs, which increased sleep length (> 7 hrs), decreased awakedness and increased sleep quality (*). Lower doses didn’t have a beneficial effect. 

4 Parkinson’s patients with REM sleep disorder were treated with 300mg / day CBD for 6 weeks. 3/4 patients completely eliminated the occurrence of their symptoms, improving sleep. (*).

Up to 24mg CBD improved sleep quality and reduced PTSD symptoms in a single patient (*). 

When to Take CBD for Sleep 

The best time to take CBD for better sleep depends on what kind of CBD you are using. If using capsules, then take about an hour before bed. Using oral drops you can take around 30 minutes before bed.

Topicals such as massage oils and balms can be used 30 minutes before bed, to alleviate any bodily discomfort to help transition into sleep.

CBD Oil Dose for Sleep

There really is no set dose for sleep pre se, but generally higher doses are better for sleep, since lower doses can be mildly stimulating, yet higher doses cause slightly more sedation.

If you'd like to find out how to dose to your own needs, have a read of our CBD oil dosage guide.