The science of sleep is fascinating. Once upon a time, people considered sleep to be a passive state of rest and repose. Today, however, we know that sleep is a highly active process. When you’re sleeping, your mind and body are processing the day’s events, healing and restoring energy, and exploring the depths of your unconscious through dreaming. More than five decades of research on brain activity and physical patterns has taught us a lot about what sleep is and isn’t.
And when it comes to the science of cannabis and its effects on how we sleep, we’re learning more and more every day. And that’s important because lots of people use marijuana to help them get to bed and enjoy a good night’s sleep. But what makes cannabis such an effective solution to sleeping problems? Does the strain matter? And are there any drawbacks to relying on a toke or two before bed?
The following guide answers all of those questions and more. It shows you how cannabis impacts every stage of your sleep. From winding down before bed to waking up the next day, learn what to do and what to avoid when it comes to cannabis and sleep.
Getting Ready For Bed
The art of using cannabis before bed comes down to selecting the best strain and the ideal quality.
The Ideal Strain: Indicas
Strains of marijuana are broken up into two broad categories. There are indica strains, and there are sativa strains and countless hybrid combinations that blend both. It’s important to remember that the chemistry of cannabis is super-complex, so it’s impossible to predict exactly how different folks will respond. Check out our guide for more information, but in general, you can expect sativa strains will make you energetic, and indicas will mellow you out.
So the traditional wisdom has it that indicas are the best choice for those seeking “drowsy” effects. But why? So far, the answer remains as unknown as the ultimate meaning of your dreams. There are, however, some hypotheses out there. Let’s break it down. The THC and CBD that contribute to marijuana’s psychoactive effects, they don’t change based on the strain. They’re the same chemicals, just different amounts and CBD/THC ratios based on the strain.
But that’s only part of the reason that each strain feels like it has its own signature effects. Terpenes are the plant components that give weed its aromatic scent and taste. And just as aromatherapy using candles or other scents is a classic way to get sleepy, the scent of indica strains may help you feel more calm and relaxed.
The Ideal Quality: Old
Got some new, freshly cured cannabis buds? Save them for the daytime! Any chance you’ve got some weed lying around, that’s a couple of years old or more? Probably not! But if you like to use cannabis for sleep, now’s a good time to start stashing away some of your buds. That’s because older, aged weed will help you fall asleep more efficiently than fresh nugs.
We do know the science behind this phenomenon. THC is a reactive compound that breaks down over time, but it takes its good old time doing it. It’s true when people claim older weed loses some of its potency. When THC breaks down, it loses its ability to make you high. The good thing is that this doesn’t all happen at once. And when it comes to using cannabis as a sleep aid, it’s a good thing. Some, but not all of the THC that breaks down will convert into a chemical called cannabinol (CBN). That “N” means “nighttime.” (Not really, bad joke). But seriously, even small amounts of CBN make your cannabis way more of a sedative than THC does. So, yup, aged weed makes you sleepier.
When it’s time to fall asleep, cannabis has your back. Most people experience sleep problems due to aggravating symptoms like chronic pain and MS and mental health issues like PTSD and anxiety. Since marijuana can help alleviate the severity of these symptoms, it’s a reliable solution for falling asleep quicker and with lower stress.
But you can dramatically increase the potency of cannabis’ sleepy effects by pairing it with other natural sleep aids. Ever wonder why humans have been using stuff like chamomile tea for millennia to help with sleep? It’s because chamomile has some of the same sedating chemicals found in cannabis. Remember those terpenes mentioned earlier? Chamomile has them in spades. A perfect combination for falling asleep, chemicals in sleep aids you can find in any grocery store “synergize,” according to Rev. Dr. Kymron deCesare, with CBN and enhance the effect of terpenes.
On their own, chamomile and other popular choices like lavender oil, melatonin, and valerian, would probably be too mild to tackle moderate to severe insomnia. Partner them up with cannabis, though, and you’ll be falling asleep in no time.
…Means Breathing Well
Lots of factors can hinder a peaceful, restoring night of sleep, but a sleep disorder called sleep apnea can keep waking you up all night. Mostly, it makes you have trouble breathing. And if your breath is interrupted, your body will wake you up. As we all know, a poor night’s sleep will create a domino effect of problems throughout the day. (Interestingly, that’s when you should turn to CBD. Studies show that unlike THC, CBD helps wake you up.)
Now, smoking cannabis has some unavoidable negative impacts on your lungs. But paradoxically, a couple studies over the past decade have suggested that being high could improve breathing regularity and therefore improve sleep quality for the estimated 18 million people with sleep apnea in the United States.
…Means Regulating Your REM Cycles and Dreams
A quick lesson in sleep science. Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep happens in 1.5-2 hour cycles and dominates the end of your entire sleep cycle, just before you wake up. This is the stage when brain activity shows the sleeper is dreaming. Studies of the brain during REM sleep indicate that, in some ways, the mind and body are more active than when you’re awake and active. So it’s kind of a paradoxical sleep. Your breathing is more rapid, your brain activity spikes, but your muscles become basically paralyzed.
Cannabis use before bed will make you spend less time in REM sleep. So you’ll dream less, or at least lest lucidly and vividly. For many folks, this can equate to a better night’s sleep, because people experience sleeping as restful and less active when they’re not in REM. The good news, besides, is that at least so far, being deprived of REM sleep isn’t associated with any significant adverse side-effects.
Already a regular cannabis user and miss your dreams? No worries! If you want to get them back, just take a hiatus from cannabis for a little bit. You’ll likely experience what experts call “REM Rebound,” and the frequency and intensity of your dreams will increase.
But you should know, stopping cannabis use all at once could make it hard for you to fall asleep in the first place. So it’s best to taper your marijuana use over a few weeks.
Welcome to a new day! Carpe diem, and all that. But wait, you’re feeling a little foggy? Something like a sloth that can’t get its thoughts straight? Or maybe you’ve woken up with a dry mouth and a stuffy nose? Shouldn’t have ripped that 6-footer right before you hit the sack!
The Cannabis Hangover
But seriously, cannabis hangovers are real, and the symptoms can be a real drag even if they can’t hold a candle to an alcohol hangover. Fortunately, it’s simple to prevent waking up with a weed hangover. Stay hydrated, take your vitamins, eat healthily, but most importantly, stay away from low-grade cannabis. Cheap bud is often covered with pesticide, and consuming that stuff will make you feel bad no matter what time of day it is.
Start the day with a sativa or some CBD oil
Just as certain cannabinoids and strains help you sleep, other varieties can contribute to getting you going. Sativas are legendary for their uplifting, energizing effects. CBD can also help to decrease sleepiness and fatigue many experience during the day, especially if they didn’t sleep well the previous night.
Some Final Advice
One more point deserves concluding this guide on cannabis and sleep.
Choose The Best Delivery Method
Should you smoke or eat your bedtime cannabis snack? It depends on what you’re looking for. When you smoke marijuana, you experience its psychoactive effects almost immediately. With edibles, they often take a bit to kick in. And that’s a double-edged sword because while the effects of edibles could last longer throughout the night, eating them could also worsen the grogginess you wake up with. So the takeaway? It’s time to experiment! Take the time and practice the self-care you need to dial in the ideal solution to sleeping with cannabis.