Why are people turning to CBD to combat insomnia and get a good night's sleep?
If you have trouble relaxing, problems with getting to sleep, or struggle to stay asleep, you’re not alone. This article explains how CBD could help you tackle your insomnia and get some much needed rest.
Most people have experienced symptoms of insomnia at some time in their lives. If you regularly find it hard to fall asleep, or stay asleep, then you’re suffering from insomnia. It can be improved by changing your sleeping habits; however, some people need to take sleeping tablets in order to get some sleep. We wanted to explore the studies and find out if CBD could offer a natural alternative to sleeping tablets.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that prevents a person from getting the amount of quality sleep that they need to feel refreshed the next day. It presents in several different patterns; some people having difficulty falling asleep; others can’t seem to stay asleep; some wake too early to rise, but too late to try and get more sleep; others just don’t get good quality, restorative sleep.
Insomnia can be categorised as either transient, acute or chronic.
Transient insomnia lasts up to a week before the person gets back to a normal sleep pattern. It is caused by short term events such as worry about an upcoming job interview, jet lag after a long haul flight, sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, having a blocked nose or a cough, or excitement about an imminent celebration.
Acute insomnia can last for several weeks; the triggers are comparable to those that cause transient insomnia, only more serious. The illness could be longer lasting than a common cold; maybe something that causes frequent nightly toilet visits. The stress and worry could be about a bigger problem like a relationship issue, impending redundancy, or a bereavement. Acute insomnia is still fairly short lived but there is a risk of bad sleeping habits developing which can lead to chronic insomnia.
Chronic insomnia can last for months or even years. As described above, chronic insomnia can be the result of bad sleeping habits forming when someone has suffered from acute insomnia. A bad sleeping environment such as a poor mattress or too much light in the bedroom can also be an explanation. Finally, long term physical and/or mental health issues can cause chronic insomnia to manifest.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
Some insomnia sufferers just can’t get to sleep. They lie awake for hours, tossing and turning, counting sheep, staring at the ceiling…. When this happens regularly, it can make them stressed about actually going to bed which only serves to compound the problem. This is known as sleep-onset insomnia.
Some people with insomnia have difficulty staying asleep. They can fall asleep with ease, barely even able to remember their head touching the pillow before drifting into slumber. Then, in the middle of the night, they are awake again - sometimes with no obvious cause for the disturbance. Once awake, their mind kicks into action, making further sleep that night unlikely. This is known as sleep-maintenance insomnia.
In other cases it is poor quality of sleep that is their particular symptom. Even though they fell asleep at a reasonable time, and awoke to the sound of their alarm 8 hours later, if there wasn’t enough deep sleep or REM sleep throughout the night, they will still feel the effects of insomnia.
What are the signs that you’re not getting enough sleep?
A healthy adult between 18 and 64 years of age needs between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep every night in order to function at their best. If this is achieved, you should feel energetic and alert from the second you wake up until the moment your head touches the pillow.
If you’re reading this and thinking you can’t remember the last time you felt sprightly for a full day, the chances are you’re sleep deprived. If you regularly miss out on sleep, you may not even recall what it feels like to be truly firing on all cylinders. Some of the most common signs of transient or acute insomnia include:
- Relying on the alarm clock
- Hitting the snooze button
- Feeling irritable or moody
- Experiencing an afternoon slump
- Falling asleep while watching tv or during meetings
- Getting drowsy after food, in warm rooms, or when driving
- Needing a lie in at the weekend
What are the effects of chronic insomnia?
The signs of poor sleep associated with transient or acute insomnia may not seem serious: let’s face it, we all struggle to force ourselves out of bed sometimes. However, when sleep deprivation becomes chronic, the negative effects can be dangerous.
Scientists have linked poor slumber with all kinds of health issues. Other than the obvious effects such as poor concentration, crankiness, forgetfulness, and lack of productivity, sleep deprivation can put your physical and mental health at real risk. The effects include:
- Poor judgment, coordination, and reaction times making you more prone to accidents
- Increased risk of depression
- Decreased sex drive which can lead to relationship problems
- Premature skin ageing
- Weakened immune system
- Weight gain
- Hallucinations and delirium
- Increased risk of stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers
- Microsleep which could be fatal if you’re driving or operating machinery
How can you prevent insomnia?
There are certain well-known recommendations for getting a healthy sleep pattern back on track. These recommendations include:
- Avoiding heavy meals, sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime
- Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning
- Improving your sleep environment and keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
- Trying relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or taking a bath just before bedtime
- Refraining from using electronic devices just before bed
- Taking regular exercise
- Limiting your liquid intake in the evening to avoid needing to urinate during the night
When these methods fail, or when a physical or mental health issue is the underlying cause of the insomnia, people may be tempted to turn to sleeping tablets.
The problem with sleeping tablets
Sleeping tablets, or ‘sedative hypnotics’ are used to induce and/or induce sleep and include benzodiazepines and (less common nowadays) barbiturates. In the UK there are currently 2.4 million active prescriptions for sleeping pills, according to a recent review by Public Health England. If you’re reading this article, maybe you account for one of these prescriptions.
I’m not judging, I get it! I’ve been there. I’ve sat in front of the doctor desperately asking her to prescribe something, anything, that will help me to sleep through the night. The problem is, though it might feel as though they are helping in the short term, the truth is that they are doing more harm than good.
Some of the side effects of sleeping tablets include:
- Resistance - even if they seem to solve your insomnia initially, you will quickly build up a tolerance to them. This can cause sufferers increasing their dosage overtime which can lead to a fatal overdose.
- Parasomnia - certain sleeping pills can cause people to engage in activities, such as sleep-walking, sleep-talking, sleep-eating, sleep-sex, and even sleep-driving with no memory of the event the following day.
- Addiction - GPs will now only prescribe sleeping pills for a few days, or a week at the most as they can actually worsen sleeping problems when people try to wean themselves off them.
- Drowsiness - sleeping tablets are powerful and the sedative effects can last well into the next day.
- Memory loss - studies have found that prolonged use of sleeping pills makes you more susceptible to memory loss and even Alzheimer’s.
- Death - the latest research on sleeping tablets shows that people who take them are 3.5 more likely to die earlier than those who don’t.
Can CBD help to improve sleep?
Sleep is part of homeostasis. It is a vital part of maintaining a constant and balanced environment within our bodies. As such, sleep is regulated by our endocannabinoid system. The longer we have been awake, the stronger our desire and need to sleep becomes. The longer we have been asleep, the greater the chance of us waking up naturally.
In order to achieve this, an endogenous sleep-regulating substance builds up in our bodies through our waking hours. This substance is called adenosine.
Adenosine is a central nervous system neuromodulator that, when it binds to its dedicated receptors, slows down neural activity and makes you feel like going to sleep. Research has definitively shown that high levels of adenosine lead to sleepiness.
CBD acts as an adenosine reuptake inhibitor which means that it helps adenosine levels to accumulate more quickly, causing you to feel sleepy. On the flip side, caffeine acts as an antagonist to adenosine receptors making you feel more alert, which is why we’re told to avoid coffee before bedtime.
How can CBD improve health related insomnia?
Many researchers have concluded that CBD can help to improve sleep because it tackles some of the key root causes of insomnia.
For many people, feeling of anxiety, stress, and worry can lead to a sleepless night. The more frequent the sleepless nights, the more the person feels anxious, stressed, and worried about the amount of sleep they’re (not) getting. It’s a vicious cycle with potentially serious consequences.
CBD can regulate how our body responds to stressful situations. By activating the aforementioned adenosine receptors in our endocannabinoid system (ECS), CBD helps us to manage stress and worry more effectively. CBD suppresses the ‘fight-or-flight’ feelings that can prevent us from winding down sufficiently to sleep; or that can cause our brains to go into overdrive if we awaken in the night.
Chronic pain conditions can also prevent us from getting a restful night. CBD could help by easing inflammation associated with chronic pain and promoting a sounder, more restorative sleep.
Also, it’s worth noting that insomnia affects more women than men due to unique hormonal changes that happen during the menstrual cycle and menopause. By stabilising these fluctuations in hormone levels, CBD could help women to sleep through the night.
Are there any other benefits of CBD for insomnia?
There sure are!
Firstly, CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive properties. All CBD products in the UK must contain 0.2% THC or lower in order to be legal. This means that you won’t experience a feeling of being ‘high’ as you’re trying to wind down.
Secondly, unlike prescribed sleeping pills, CBD is non-addictive. This means that you can take CBD to help you to sleep for as long as your insomnia symptoms persist without having the struggle of a sleeping tablet dependency.
Also, CBD has shown none of the negative side-effects of sleeping tablets like benzodiazepines. It won’t make you drowsy the next day, and there have been no reported cases of CBD overdose.
According to a report from the World Health Organization, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
Using CBD for insomnia safely
There is no current evidence to suggest that CBD based products are harmful to humans. They contain plant based cannabinoids, and cannabinoids are found naturally in our own bodies. Hence, if you decide to try CBD oil to find relief from your insomnia, even if you don’t find the positive results you were hoping for, you’re unlikely to find any negative ones.
This being said, it’s still recommended that you consult with a doctor before taking CBD oil if you are taking prescribed sleeping pills. Also, make sure you check the ingredients carefully, and ask vendors for lab reports, to ensure that your product of choice contains the advertised dose of CBD.
Furthermore, it’s really important that you purchase your CBD products from reputable sources. The popularity of CBD is such that some shady manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon. To be sure of the purity of the CBD, as well as any other ingredients used, do your research and only buy certified products.
The research into CBD continues
As more studies are undertaken, and more research published, we will continue to update you with all the latest findings regarding CBD.
If you still have more questions, we are always happy to help. Just get in touch with any queries you have about CBD or vaping in general.
The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a particular medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
- Nicola Webster