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75 million smokers, vaping and cannabis enthusiasts reached since 2015
April 24, 2024
13 min to read

CBD and Sleep: Does CBD Make You Tired?

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Hayley Heidelbaugh

After the 2018 legalization of hemp and its derivatives, CBD products became the first popular hemp-based commodities. Since then, the legal market has been flooded with endless varieties of consumable products containing the in-demand cannabinoid, ranging from CBD vape pens to CBD oils to CBD bud and CBD gummies.

No matter its form, claims about CBD benefits are hard to ignore. Even many outside the weed and alternative medicine worlds hold these cannabis products in high regard. And one of the primary goals for many new CBD users is to improve their sleep.

Dozens of studies have investigated CBD’s influence on sleep. Results differ based on the condition or symptoms being addressed, and some effects are likely dose-dependent. Multiple scientific reviews have since been published to compile these results.

Does CBD live up to its hype as a sleep aid? While it isn’t the answer to every kind of sleep problem, CBD can be effective for some people in some circumstances. Let’s have a closer look.

Sleep and the endocannabinoid system (ECS)

Sleep-wake cycles and the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) are closely linked.

Two kinds of receptors dominate many of the body’s responses to cannabis: CB1 and CB2. Although CB1 receptors are found in multiple parts of the central nervous system—such as the cortex and limbic system—those in the basal forebrain and pons (part of the brainstem) seem to influence how easily a person falls asleep.

Activation of these CB1 receptors may have a sedative effect. Several cannabinoids bind to CB1 with varying degrees of effectiveness. As a whole, cannabis shows potential in managing and inducing sleep, although not all cannabinoids will make you tired.

To clarify, CB1 activation alone won’t always trigger sedation. The ECS’s relationship to our sleep-wake cycles is complex. Various neurons and hormones also contribute to these processes, and research into the details is ongoing. We don’t have a perfect understanding of every system involved.

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The chemistry of CBD for sleep: where does it begin?

Unlike delta 9 THC and other intoxicating cannabinoids, CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. Its interactions are less direct.

Rather than CB1, molecules link to transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, triggering the body-and-mind relief CBD is famous for. TRP sensor channels play a prominent role in the body’s response to pain, as well as temperature control, sight, and touch.

Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean that CBD isn’t psychoactive. Any substance affecting brain chemistry or the nervous system qualifies as psychoactive. It does, however, make CBD’s effects significantly different from THC’s effects. CBD itself doesn’t get users high and seems to influence sleep in ways beyond sedation.

Does CBD make you sleepy?

Just as recreational CBD can affect one user differently from another, its effect on sleep also varies. Dose, tolerance, and human physiology all factor into everyone’s experience.

Here’s the consensus: CBD isn’t a sedative, but it has the potential to reduce pain and discomfort, combat stress, and induce a host of other body-soothing effects that may help promote sleep. Even if CBD’s impact on sleep isn’t direct doesn’t mean it can’t be significant.

Evidence suggests that CBD may improve sleep quality and help users maintain a healthy sleep-wake schedule. As usual, some research reaches more optimistic conclusions. A study published in early 2024 found that CBD supplementation produced no better sleep outcomes than a placebo. That study did, however, conclude that CBD led to positive psychological effects and better daytime well-being.

Trial and error is necessary to determine how your body responds to different cannabinoids. While it isn’t uncommon for users to cite improved sleep quality after consuming CBD, others use the same products to boost alertness or focus. Technically, these experiences aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a balancing act requiring experimentation with different product types, brands, and CBD dosages to see how they react with your own body.

Also of note, high doses of CBD might minimize time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, though study results have been mixed. Increased REM latency—or the amount of time before the REM sleep stage is achieved—can encourage longer bouts of deep sleep and better mental health. During REM, the brain is as active as it gets outside waking hours.

While it’s necessary and restorative, REM alone doesn’t make you feel refreshed in the morning. Waking up during this stage of the night can also result in daytime grogginess. Recent studies have been discouraging regarding CBD and REM sleep, and it's now uncertain whether CBD has a notable impact on REM sleep behavior disorder.

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R+R Medicinals CBD Oil

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R+R Medicinals provides premium products made from Colorado-grown organic hemp. They use CO2 extraction and all of their products go through extensive lab testing. It is rare to find such high-quality CBD oil for this price. It starts at $0.05 per mg of CBD for a 500 mg bottle and goes down from there.

CBD and sleep disorders

Time for a disclaimer: although there’s a growing body of evidence that CBD can improve sleep quality and make it easier to fall asleep, there’s no indication it can treat clinical sleep disorders. It should only be used as a supplement to sleep or mental health medications prescribed by your doctor, and your doctor should be involved in any decision to use CBD, or any supplement or other self-treatment option. A doctor can also advise you on potential drug interactions.

Even as we cover the more impressive research, remember the distinction between management and cure. If you’re kept awake by chronic pain associated with a medical diagnosis, CBD may reduce discomfort and help you rest better, but it won’t cure or treat the underlying illness. Sleep disorders and mental health conditions are no different.

In short, CBD may help modulate the nervous system and relieve certain symptoms, but it isn’t a miracle drug. The only CBD-based drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is Epidiolex, used to treat certain seizure disorders. Those in the United Kingdom have access to Nabiximols, a multiple sclerosis medication containing equal parts CBD and THC.

Chronic insomnia disorder

Insomnia disorder doesn’t mean a few nights of lost sleep. It’s a lasting condition that can have detrimental effects on the sufferer’s physical and mental health, even affecting their overall quality of life. Although chronic insomnia may occur independently of other conditions, the disorder often goes hand-in-hand with particular diagnoses.

To qualify for an insomnia diagnosis, the patient must have difficulty falling or staying asleep three times or more per week, with symptoms persisting for at least three months.

Treatment of insomnia is multi-faceted and should be tailored to the individual. Because the disorder has so many potential causes, it isn’t always enough to manage the symptom itself. It may be more effective to target the underlying causes. CBD alone can’t do this.

So, while CBD won’t get to the core of chronic insomnia, there is evidence that it could improve sleep quality and quantity in those with the disorder. This could prove highly valuable for everyday comfort and energy levels. Most studies report symptom reduction in a portion of participants, though nearly none address long-term insomnia outcomes. CBD’s full efficacy is unproven.

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Sleep apnea

A common breathing condition that often disrupts sleep, sleep apnea comes in two forms, sometimes existing in tandem: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apneas (CSAs).

OSA is a disorder resulting from upper airway collapse. Although OSA patients can also experience CSAs, central apneas are not caused by physical obstruction. Instead, CSAs are a byproduct of disrupted communication between the brain and breathing muscles.

The potential link between cannabis and apneas is worth exploring further, but as it stands, CBD is not a recommended treatment for either condition. Studies have shown a preliminary link between cannabinoids and serotonin-induced apneas, with the most promising results coming from CB1 agonists like THC. It actually seems that, if anything, CBD (a CB1 antagonist) could counteract the anti-apnea effects of agonists.

Narcolepsy

Pre-clinical animal studies have found a potential tie between CBD and wakefulness in those with orexin deficiency. Narcolepsy patients could benefit from this discovery. The more orexin the brain produces, the more likely you are to feel wide awake and alert during the day.

Orexin, a type of neurotransmitter, seems to play a significant role in the development of narcolepsy. This complex disorder is responsible for more than just daytime sleepiness. Individuals with narcolepsy might also deal with sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and loss of muscle control.

There’s no known cure for narcolepsy, so finding new well-tolerated treatments is the goal. CBD shows promise for this purpose.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Sleep disturbances aren’t inherent to PTSD, but they’re a frequent consequence of the disorder. Reducing nightmares and bettering sleep quality is just one goal of treatment.

Nightmares aren’t easily treated with medication, which boosts the appeal of alternative therapies like CBD and THC. Allowing PTSD-related sleep issues to go untreated only exacerbates other symptoms. If you’re stuck in such a hypervigilant state even at night, the stress caused by the resulting hormone imbalance is exacerbated by lack of sleep.

Hormonal and endocannabinoid dysregulation is at the core of many PTSD symptoms, and balancing these systems can improve sleep outcomes. CBD might provide a valuable piece of this puzzle, alongside THC and the synthetic cannabinoid nabilone.

CBD for sleep: isolate vs. broad-spectrum vs. full-spectrum

New CBD users often see the cannabinoid as a prospective sleep aid. Navigating hemp products for the first time can be overwhelming, even if you’ve narrowed your focus to certain kinds of products like CBD carts or tinctures.

We’ll explore alternative cannabinoids for sleep later, but each of these compounds is available in three forms: isolate, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum.

Isolates are distilled extracts containing a high concentration of one specific cannabinoid, but little to nothing else. Since the manufacturing process strips the natural flavor compounds, isolates are often supplemented with plant-derived terpenes for a dash of flavor and authentic herbal aroma. The same goes for isolates made from all cannabinoids.

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Avida Full Spectrum

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Avida offers a full spectrum MCT oil tincture in 125 mg or 500 mg strengths. Their oil contains less than 0.3% THC and features CORE Spectrum technology. They use a proprietary blend of phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and natural spearmint extract. Their CBD tinctures are BPA free, gluten-free, and third-party lab tested.

Broad and full-spectrum hemp extracts feature a range of cannabinoids and terpenes. The distinction is slight, though broad-spectrum CBD oils tend to contain smaller trace amounts of THC—or none. Full-spectrum extracts contain the complete range of organic compounds from the source plant, allowing CBD (and traces of THC) to synergize with minor cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, and other substances found in the plant. That interplay is called the entourage effect.

For the purpose of sleep, CBD and hemp users commonly recommend broad or full-spectrum oils, to take advantage of the entourage effect. By teaming up, cannabinoids and terpenes may bolster each other’s benefitcial qualities resulting in a more potent overall effect. Research into the entourage effect is ongoing and most of our current understanding is anecdotal.

Full-spectrum CBD oil probably won’t make you tired, but it could have prominent body-soothing effects, even compared to other CBD oils.

Is it safe to use CBD for sleep?

Depending on a user’s history, the risks of using CBD for sleep can vary. This cannabinoid is well-tolerated by the majority of generally healthy people. 

Potential side effects

Taking CBD for any purpose puts users at risk of side effects. Generally speaking, adverse effects are milder than those from intoxicating cannabinoids, including delta 9 THC.

Before getting started with CBD for sleep, be aware that you could experience:

  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced appetite
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

These reactions will be more pronounced in some users than in others. Start with a smaller dose of CBD (the manufacturer’s recommendation or lower) and work your way up, keeping an eye out for adverse effects as you go. Consider taking less or ceasing use if CBD isn’t benefiting your body and sleep schedule.

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Lack of hemp regulations

While CBD itself is safe for the average user, our current hemp landscape is rocky. Due diligence is necessary when shopping for CBD and other hemp products. Always check for a certificate of analysis (COA) before purchasing hemp products of any kind, even if you’re sticking to mainstream products like CBD.

The 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized hemp products for sale and possession in the United States (state laws vary), provided they contain less than 0.3% delta 9 THC by weight. However, the U.S. government has yet to establish content standards or testing requirements for hemp-derived products, including CBD. It’s up to consumers to research hemp products before they use them.

Drug interactions

Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can interact with each other and with other substances you consume. That could include foods, food supplements, or plants and plant-based compounds like cannabis-derived CBD.

Your body needs to metabolize any substance you ingest to reap its effects. Processing multiple substances at the same time can lead to wires getting crossed. That’s why doctors warn patients on blood thinners not to take aspirin (it can cause uncontrolled bleeding in the digestive tract) and advise some patients on statins to avoid eating grapefruit (they can interact and cause liver and kidney damage).

Speak to your doctor if you use any medication and would like to give CBD a try. You can also do basic research yourself on potential drug interactions.

Other cannabinoids for sleep

Interplay between CBD and sleep is obviously present, but other cannabinoids may provide equal or even greater benefits.

CBN for sleep

The first cannabinoid identified and documented by chemists was CBN. It’s been known to researchers for several decades longer than CBD, but unfortunately, it has undergone significantly less inquiry—until recently, that is. This renewed interest was sparked by anecdotes about CBN and its potential effect on sleep quality.

It’s unclear whether CBN truly acts as a sedative. Still, while there has been academic contention and claims that marketing is at fault, evidence of its benefits is growing. CBN may promote better quality sleep and reduce nighttime awakenings when taken on its own, and may have an even greater effect when combined with THC.

This may inspire users to double up, taking both CBN and CBD to achieve the best possible sleep. While the technique makes sense in theory, CBD doesn’t seem to boost the effects of CBN, even when taken together before bed.

Those dealing with insomnia may want to keep an eye on CBN. Positive anecdotes seem to multiply by the day, with researchers taking note. Just don’t expect it to replace pharmaceutical sleep aids anytime soon.

THC for sleep

Whenever sedation is the goal, good old delta 9 THC one-ups CBD. THC has significant CB1 receptor affinity and is known to possess sedative qualities.

Insomnia is one of the primary motivators behind medical cannabis use. The effectiveness of THC on sleep is well-documented and actively explored by researchers, with contemporary studies showing great promise. Chemists are still working out how valuable this link is to managing symptoms of specific medical conditions.

While marijuana certainly has the potential to help users sleep better, just be aware that not everyone gets the desired effect. The effect can also be strain-dependent.

A recent retrospective study parsed symptoms, diagnoses, and sleep ratings logged by 991 individuals on a medical marijuana app. Indica varieties of marijuana were found to strike down insomnia symptoms the hardest. Both high-CBD and sativa strains had less pronounced impacts.

Returning to sleep apnea for a moment, this is another area where THC could outshine CBD. Dronabinol, a legal form of synthetic THC used to treat symptoms of HIV and chemotherapy, can be prescribed off-label as an OSA treatment. Even better, the medication has done a good enough job to inspire new research—and the early results look hopeful.

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Hayley Heidelbaugh

Vaping since: 3 years

Favorite products:

Favorite flavors: White Wedding, Northern Lights, Platinum Valley, OG Kush

Expertise in: Oil carts, cannabis concentrates, cannabis flower

Hayley Heidelbaugh

I'm a Pennsylvania-based cannabis enthusiast and writer. As a part of the Vaping360 team, I'm eager to help cannabis consumers explore vaping and get the most out of their experience. You can also find me @faeberrystudios on Instagram.

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