Lack of sleep is considered a “public health epidemic,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can lead to increased susceptibility to mental, physical and health problems. Studies have linked sleep deprivation to depression, obesity, high blood pressure and even cancer. Scientists have even found a link between early mortality and lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep could literally be killing you.
Sleep issues can happen for a variety of reasons, including stress, poor fitness and diet habits, and time shifts when crossing time zones, as well as environmental conditions, including too much light, noise, or electronics in the bedroom. In Alaska, falling sleep can be difficult during the summer months when the days are long and sunlight streams into our bedrooms.
Three critical pillars of self-care are sleep, fitness and nutrition. Getting a good night’s sleep is critical. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 40 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder. Over 60 percent of adults experience some type of sleep disturbance several nights a week.
If cannabis can help you get a better night’s sleep, that alone could greatly improve your ability to cope with life’s stressors as well as find the motivation to get more exercise and improve your eating habits.
Our endocannabinoid system, or ECS, lays over all of our other systems and modulates what they do, including releasing hormones related to stress such as cortisol and adrenaline that can interfere with sleep. Scientists who are studying the ECS consider it to be of critical importance to our overall health because of how it resides within and affects every part of our bodies. There isn’t a single physiological process that is not affected by our ECS, including eating, exercising, relaxing and sleeping.
For women experiencing insomnia due to perimenopause, high estrogen levels can produce heightened levels of anxiety, interrupting their sleep cycle. High levels of estrogen also inhibit GABA, a naturally occurring brain chemical that is a calming neurotransmitter. GABA helps to induce sleep, relax muscles, and reduce anxiety.
Cannabinoids in cannabis can modulate GABA in anyone, helping this chemical compound within our brains return to normal function. Careful cannabis dosing can help reduce racing thoughts that could also be disrupting a person’s sleep.
While each cannabinoid in cannabis produces different effects that can be individual to each person, some cannabinoids are particularly good for promoting sleep.
THC, for example, can reduce pain, ease nausea, and increase appetite and can be quite sedating. If you’ve ever consumed some cannabis hoping to simply relax or enjoy a social occasion but then found yourself ready for a nap, you know how sleepy THC can make you feel. Smoking or vaping THC can quickly put you into a relaxed state to help you fall asleep; however, studies show that too much THC can prevent you from entering a REM state of sleep where the most restorative sleep time occurs. There is no one single amount of cannabis that works for all people as a sleep aid.
The cannabinoid CBN is a byproduct of THC after it has been exposed to light and air. Consumed in large quantities, CBN can produce paranoia, something you might experience after smoking low-quality, improperly stored cannabis. CBN acts as a sedative, and some cannabis growers and manufacturers are starting to emphasize CBN to produce a more natural sleep aid.
CBD can be a sleep aid by helping reduce anxiety that could be preventing someone from falling asleep. Too much CBD, however, can be stimulating and keep you up. CBD with a little THC will always be more effective because cannabinoids naturally interact to complement one another or affect how the other works.
Cannabinoids are not the only chemical compounds occurring in cannabis that can aid with sleep. Terpenes can produce specific effects as well as affect how certain cannabinoids work. Myrcene is a terpene found in hops, basil, mango, thyme, bay leaves, and lemongrass as well as cannabis in varying quantities. Higher doses of myrcene can produce relaxation and sedation as well as enhance the effects of THC and other cannabinoids. If you have too much myrcene with THC, it can be a very effective sedative. If you are a woman in menopause, however, myrcene should be avoided as it can exacerbate other uncomfortable menopausal symptoms.
It can be challenging to find your ideal dose when inhaling cannabis, so take in a little at a time and gradually increasing until you get the effects you want without the ones you don’t. If you’d like help sleeping, you might be able to tolerate higher doses, but note how you feel in the morning. You should feel refreshed, not fuzzy brained.
Remember that inhaling cannabis produces near-immediate effects while edibles will take more time to go through your system before you feel anything. Tinctures and oral sprays or sublinguals will affect you more quickly as well. For most people, Cannabis sativa acts as a stimulant that produces an energizing head high and alertness. Indica strains are often more suitable as a sleep aid.
Finding your perfect dose takes time and can vary depending on where you are health-wise on any given day or night. Sometimes, pairing vaping, smoking or a tincture with an edible gives you both more immediate effects along with a slower onset to help you fall asleep easily and then sleep through the night.
Aliza Sherman lives in Anchorage, Alaska and has been involved in the cannabis industry since early 2016. She is the co-founder of Ellementa, an international network for women interested in cannabis for wellness. She is the author of a new book, “The Essential Guide to Cannabis and CBD: Optimizing Your Health With Nature’s Medicine” (Ten Speed Press). http://ellementa.com/cannabisbook