Insomnia & CBD

UPDATED ON DECEMBER 29, 2018

The Insomnia Epidemic

Almost everyone has sleeping sometimes, but some suffer from insomnia, which is defined as having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting back to sleep after waking up. Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder, and there are many different types of insomnia:

  • Acute insomnia: a brief period pf insomnia that lasts less than 1 month
  • Short-term insomnia: lasting less than 3 months
  • Chronic insomnia: lasts longer than 3 months or for 3 or more nights per week
  • Adjustment insomnia: resulting from a life change such as a new job, moving, marriage or divorce, or loss of a loved one
  • Substance-induced insomnia: caused by caffeine, alcohol, opioids, recreational drugs, or medications
  • Comorbid insomnia: occurs along with another illness; most commonly depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
  • Psychophysiological insomnia: associated with anxiety about not being able to sleep, causing sufferers to not be able to sleep

According to the CDC, over one-third of American adults don’t get at least 7 hours per night. And the dangers of chronic lack of restful sleep are backed up by a lot of research: higher rates of stroke, asthma attacks, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, anxiety, higher rates of accidents, shorter life expectancy, and relationship problems.

CBD and the Brain

CBD seems to increase the brain’s ability to respond to stressful situations. When you’re confronted with a perceived threat, the stress response begins in the brain. The eyes and ears send signals to the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala then communicates with the hypothalamus, which then communicates with the rest of the body through your autonomic nervous system to your adrenal glands. The adrenal glands send the hormone epinephrine (more commonly known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream, which prepares you for action: your heart beats faster, sending blood to the muscles, heart, and other organs; breathing speeds up and extra oxygen is sent to the brain that increases awareness. Glucose and fats are released into the bloodstream, giving you more energy. Your senses are sharpened.

Now think of this string of events happening as you’re trying to sleep. This is the state that many people are in: chronic low-level stress. Sufferers feel that they don’t have control and are almost constantly faced with some form of threat, making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or fall back asleep after waking up.

CBD activates the adenosine receptor in our endocannabinoid system, which regulates the physiological response to stress starting in the brain (called the HPA axis or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). CBD allows the brain to manage stress more effectively. And as stress is a common cause of lack of restful sleep, CBD holds promise for insomniacs.

It’s also worth noting that there has been research on the benefits of CBD for chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. CBD interacts with serotonin receptors and GABA receptors in the brain. Serotonin is important in regulating mood and anxiety, while GABA has a calming effect on the brain.

CBD & Insomnia Research

There hasn’t been a lot of research on CBD and insomnia, yet the research that has been done is mostly positive (and there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence). Research published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that subjects receiving 160 mg of CBD reported having slept significantly more than those receiving a placebo.

And a study published in the Journal Of Pharmacology showed that CBD increased sleep time in rats. But something that’s interesting is that they found that when the rats were given CBD during the day, the time it took to fall asleep (sleep latency) increased. It’s possible that CBD can help you sleep better at night, yet makes you more aware and less sleepy during the day. Another study published in the NIH suggests that CBD could be a “wake-inducing agent.”