WELLNESS
09/12/2018 01:33 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2018

Can CBD Really Help You Sleep Better?

Breaking down what the product does for insomnia.
Research shows promise when it comes to CBD and sleep.
Marco Poggioli / EyeEm via Getty Images
Research shows promise when it comes to CBD and sleep.

Nothing makes me more jealous than hearing people talk about sleep. I’ve struggled with sleep for as long as I can remember, and I’ve tried just about everything to get more of it: Regular exercise, meditation, solid sleep hygiene, melatonin and magnesium, to name a few.

Some of it has certainly helped, but only for certain periods of time when I didn’t have much on my mind. As soon as I found something to worry about, all hope was lost. That no-tech-before-bedtime rule plus a melatonin tablet didn’t get me anywhere fast.

Perplexed doctors eventually gave me a prescription for Klonopin, a medication many clinicians assign to patients for anxiety. While it helped me fall asleep, I spent the entire next day feeling like a slightly nauseous zombie. I felt equally as terrible as I did after a night of poor sleep, so I decided it wasn’t worth it.

That’s precisely why I was intrigued when I started hearing about CBD, or cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive compound found in the cannabis or hemp plant that apparently helps with sleep and anxiety. I didn’t exactly get my hopes up ― after all, tons of natural remedies that worked for other people hadn’t worked for me ― but I figured it was worth a shot.

Putting CBD To The Test

CBD can be taken in a few ways. Oil is probably the most popular, but it can also be taken in capsule form, or even as a chocolate or gummy. After a week of taking CBD in oil form every night, it was clear I’d stumbled across something kind of remarkable. I often slept well the first few nights of trying something new before it stopped working its magic, which I partially attribute to the placebo effect. With CBD, however, the good nights of sleep kept on coming.

My racing thoughts seemed to come to a screeching halt within an hour of taking it, and when I got into bed I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Even better, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. And this isn’t unusual: As Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist, explained in a 2017 HuffPost article, there’s a good chunk of research to suggest that CBD can be beneficial for rest. Research shows CBD may increase overall sleep amounts and reduce insomnia. CBD has also been shown to improve sleep in people who suffer from chronic pain.

Gretchen Lidicker, author of CBD Oil: Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide To Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness, said that while studying CBD is extremely difficult because of the legal issues still surrounding cannabis and marijuana, there has been research that indicates CBD can be a helpful antidote to anxiety and insomnia.

“These studies mainly point to CBD’s ability to interact with ... serotonin receptors and GABA receptors in the brain,” she explained. “Serotonin plays an important role in mood and anxiety, and GABA is known as the main ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter, meaning it calms excess activity in the brain and promotes relaxation. GABA receptors are the target of benzodiazepines, which are a class of anti-anxiety drugs.”

Lidicker noted that one study on humans, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, showed that CBD was able to help with public speaking-induced anxiety. She also pointed to a clinical trial that started in August at a hospital in Massachusetts, in which researchers are administering 10 mg of CBD three times a day for a month to test its effects on patients with anxiety.

“Hopefully we’ll know more and more as clinical trials like this are conducted,” Lidicker said.

And how does CBD compare to other sleep supplements like melatonin? Lidicker explained that while she thinks melatonin is great, it has a different impact on the brain and body.

“CBD appears to help with sleep because of its anti-anxiety properties and ability to promote relaxation,” she said, noting that melatonin directly signals to the body that it’s evening and time to go to sleep by raising the naturally occurring levels of melatonin already in the body.  

That explained why melatonin made me sleepy and helped with jet lag, but didn’t to help with the underlying anxiety that was causing my insomnia in the first place.

Can You Use Too Much CBD?

RJ Sangosti via Getty Images

Everyone’s body is different, and Lidicker said that for some people, CBD might actually energize them.

“In that case, it could keep them up at night,” she said. “This interpersonal variation is a common theme with cannabis-derived therapies, because the way you react to cannabis is highly individualized.”

Lidicker added that people’s responses have a lot to do with how they personally process the product, and how cannabinoid receptors are distributed throughout the body. This is why it’s also difficult to standardize dosing recommendations for CBD. I was administering 0.5 ml of CBD oil under the tongue about half an hour before bed every night (that was the amount recommended on the bottle), but it’s worth noting that the concentration of cannabidiol may vary by product and that some people require more or less to feel the effects.

And what happens if you use it regularly? Lidicker said that while there’s still not enough published research available on CBD, there’s very little reason to believe people develop a resistance to CBD over time, which was my main fear.

That being said, it isn’t perfect: Some people do experience negative side effects like irritability, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Experts say that caution is key when it comes to using CBD until more definitive studies are able to be conducted.

So, is CBD the miracle sleep supplement it appears to be? There may not be enough scientific data yet to say for sure, and it obviously depends on the person. But I certainly hope so ― because I’m not willing to give up these blissful eight-hour nights and energy-filled days I’m experiencing anytime soon.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the amount of CBD oil the author was taking per dose.

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