Is the use of CBD for sleep improvement a myth, or is it a valid medicinal lullaby backed by scientists? According to Xavier Toussay, PhD, Collège La Cité, there is much to say on the matter, but little research. In our last piece we explored CBD’s relationship in helping with mental clarity, in this paper we’re reviewing the correlation between CBD and sleep.
Sleep is a vital physiological process that plays an important role in restorative functions . In plain english, sleep is necessary for us to function on a basic human level. It’s safe to assume that a lack of sleep may have a direct effect on your day-to-day life. Being overtired not only results in crankiness, but can negatively affect your decision making, your ability to focus, and even your mental health . Clinical studies show that lack of sleep can alter cognitive performances, namely attention (or focus), memory, and executive functions . This is why we learned to count sheep as children for a good night’s sleep. However, once the sheep ran away, many of us sought out new ways to help us fall asleep. This is where cannabis comes into play.
A number of people use CBD products to help with sleep. There are reports through online surveys of its effectiveness for sleep issues, along with stress and anxiety. The results praise CBD for its magical ability to calm the mind and body, readying people for a peaceful night of slumber. That being said, this specific survey data is highly variable in the content and quality of CBD currently on the market . A lot of websites popularizing science use this survey data to promote CBD-derived products. They make claims like, “CBD oil for sleep has proven to be effective thanks to its ability to naturally interact with the endocannabinoid system”, which sounds great, right? Problem is, the majority of these websites are aiming for their target demographic: already existent cannabis users who have positive experiences with CBD and sleep. Furthermore, these websites fail to cite clinical studies demonstrating the efficiency of CBD for sleep problems.
Like much of the research on CBD and mental clarity, most studies have been done in animal models. Studies in rats suggest that there is a correlation between CBD dose and increased percentage of sleep [20, 21]. However, regardless of the potential benefit discovered, clinical data from randomized controlled experiments remain limited. To date, there is little clinical data on humans that support the use of CBD for sleep. A quick search on Clinicaltrials.gov shows there is only one clinical trial in Canada underway to investigate the potential of CBD as an anxiety or sleep disturbances medication.
One study published in 2019 investigated the effect of CBD on anxiety and sleep disturbances in adult patients . 72 adults struggling with anxiety and sleep issues were administered 25 mg and 75 mg day capsules for at least one month, morning, evening, or according to the peak of their symptoms. Within the first month, 57 patients (79.2%) experienced lower anxiety scores, and 48 patients (66.7%) experienced higher sleep scores. While sleep scores improved drastically within the first month, they did fluctuate as the experiment continued. This clinical evaluation was performed monthly for three months. Ultimately, the study discovered that cannabidiol may hold benefits for anxiety-related disorders, but controlled clinical studies are needed.
Other research in humans focuses on pairing CBD with other natural compounds to aid with sleep. One study shows promising results combining cannabidiol with melatonin (an effective sleep aid known for its groggy side effects and nightmare-inducing slumber) . This study focused on 28 patients suffering from anxiety or poor sleep. They were prescribed 1.5 mg melatonin and 2.5 mg CBD  and monitored over the span of three months. While the results were mostly positive, with patients exhibiting better quality of sleep and higher energy levels, more data is still required to make any conclusion on the benefit of CBD for promoting sleep.
Scientifically speaking, little is known about the benefit of CBD improving sleep problems since few clinical data in humans are currently available.
Although not entirely related to sleep, Harvard Health Publishing website shares strong scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of CBD. Tried and true studies on CBD aiding some of the cruellest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, have been proven beneficial. To date, Epidiolex, which contains CBD, is the first cannabis-derived medicine approved by the Food and Drug Administration for these epilepsy syndromes.
In the future, studies should use validated objective measures to assess the therapeutic impact of CBD in individuals willing to improve sleep issues.
- Buxton, O.M., et al., Effects of Sleep Deficiency on Hormones, Cytokines, and Metabolism, in Impact of Sleep and Sleep Disturbances on Obesity and Cancer, S. Redline and N.A. Berger, Editors. 2014, Springer New York: New York, NY. p. 25-50.
- Brownlow, J.A., K.E. Miller, and P.R. Gehrman, Insomnia and Cognitive Performance. Sleep Med Clin, 2020. 15(1): p. 71-76.
- Moltke, J. and C. Hindocha, Reasons for cannabidiol use: a cross-sectional study of CBD users, focusing on self-perceived stress, anxiety, and sleep problems. J Cannabis Res, 2021. 3(1): p. 5.
- Murillo-Rodríguez, E., et al., Cannabidiol, a constituent of Cannabis sativa, modulates sleep in rats. FEBS Letters, 2006. 580(18): p. 4337-4345.
- Chagas, M.H., et al., Effects of acute systemic administration of cannabidiol on sleep-wake cycle in rats. J Psychopharmacol, 2013. 27(3): p. 312-6.
- Shannon, S., et al., Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. Perm J, 2019. 23: p. 18-041.
- Palmieri, G., et al., Insomnia treatment: a new multitasking natural compound based on melatonin and cannabis extracts. La Clinica terapeutica, 2022. 173(1): p. 91-96.