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Does Cannabis Help With Sleep? What We Know So Far

The jury’s out on whether cannabis helps sleep as it helps some, but not others. For a scientifically proven way to improve sleep, turn to sleep hygiene.
Published
2022-10-24
Updated
16 MINS
Woman taking cannabis drops to help with sleep

Marijuana use is at an all-time high, with 43% of young adults reporting using it in 2021. And while there are many reported health benefits, like decreased anxiety and pain, improving sleep is often a reason people turn to the drug. 

But, while cannabis can make you feel relaxed and sleepy, does that mean it really helps you sleep? The jury’s still out on that question. While the drug helps some fall asleep faster, it keeps others awake for longer. And many studies into cannabis and sleep are small, conflicting, and inconclusive, so more research needs to be done. 

Below, we’ll dive into what we do know about whether cannabis can help with sleep, what happens when you sleep when high, and the things you can do to improve your sleep that are scientifically proven to make a difference. 

How Can Cannabis Help Me Sleep?

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids. You might have heard of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. This is the psychoactive component that gets you high, but it can have sedative effects on some people. 

The plant also contains cannabidiol, also known as CBD, which is the part known for reducing anxiety and relaxing you. 

Cannabinol, also known as CBN, is less well-known and it can act as a sedative and pain reliever. 

So, when you consume cannabis in some form, you might feel sleepy and relaxed, and feel less anxious and less pain, helping you fall and stay asleep. 

It’s difficult to say for sure the impacts cannabis has on sleep because we all react to the drug differently. The effects of cannabis can depend on: 

  • The route of ingestion (smoking vs. edibles, for example)
  • The strain of cannabis (indica vs. sativa)
  • The composition (how much THC and CBD, as well as the type of terpenes in the strain you consume, some of which are more relaxing than others) 
  • The dose 
  • Prior cannabis exposure
  • Weight
  • Metabolism
  • Gender
  • Previous meals 
  • Individual reaction (high THC doses make some people paranoid and anxious)

Does Cannabis Help with Sleep?

Cannabis affects us all differently, but here’s what the research has to say on whether it can help with sleep. 

The “Good” 

A review of sleep and cannabis studies found CBD can help treat insomnia, whereas THC may decrease sleep latency (how long it takes you to fall asleep), but it could impair long-term sleep quality (note: sleep quality doesn’t have an agreed-upon definition yet). We investigate whether CBD specifically helps with sleep here. 

Results varied across the studies and showed cannabis could:

  • Decrease sleep latency 
  • Reduce nightmares
  • Improve sleep quality (or make it worse in those who have a higher likelihood of having a cannabis use disorder)
  • Reduce how much you wake up during the night  
  • Increase deep sleep (note: a change in sleep architecture like this leads to “manufactured” rather than the healthier-for-you “naturalistic” sleep)
  • Decrease REM sleep (same note as above)

The review concluded: “Research on cannabis and sleep is in its infancy and has yielded mixed results.” And it said more research is needed. 

Another study found cannabis may increase melatonin levels, and as melatonin primes the body for sleep, it can help you fall asleep easier. But the study was published in 1986 and only included nine people.  

A 2019 review found some studies showed cannabis can help improve sleep — including decreasing sleep disturbances and sleep latency. However, it noted many of the studies had limitations such as small sample sizes or measuring sleep as a secondary outcome when someone used cannabis to help with an illness. 

Cannabis may also help to decrease anxiety in some, and anxiety can easily impact your sleep. You can learn more about the vicious cycle of anxiety and sleep loss here.

Cannabis and Sleeping with Pain 

Most research on cannabis and sleep is actually on cannabis and pain management, and sleep is reported as a secondary outcome. The research shows cannabis may help those with certain health conditions to sleep. 

Studies on pain management show patients find cannabis more effective for managing pain and improving sleep than prescription pain medication. (And pain and sleep loss can fuel a vicious cycle as well.)

One study found cannabis improved sleep, pain, and quality of life for those with chronic pain.

And a survey of medical cannabis users found most liked that it helped with pain relief, but the second-largest benefit was how it helped improve their sleep. Participants said it helped them fall asleep faster, stay asleep, and reduced their nightmares. 

Cannabis and Sleep Disorders 

One study found cannabis reduced sleep latency in both people with and without sleep problems. 

Another small study found THC decreased sleep latency in insomniacs and reduced how often they woke up during the night. 

A small study found dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, significantly reduced how severe participants’ sleep apnea was.  

A 2020 review concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to support cannabis as a clinical treatment for sleep disorders, but the preliminary research was promising for cannabis and:

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder-related nightmares
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Rapid-eye-movement sleep behavior disorder
  • Narcolepsy

While cannabis may help with sleep disorders, you should seek medical advice if you think you’re suffering from one to get the best treatment plan for you. 

The Bad 

A recent study, done in 2021, found how often participants used cannabis and how much THC and CBD was in the cannabis they used wasn’t associated with any impacts on their sleep. However, the research did find that increased frequency of consuming edibles was associated with worse subjective sleep efficiency, shorter sleep duration, and worse overall sleep. 

Heads-up: Sleep efficiency is the measure of how long you spend in bed actually sleeping, taking into account how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you’re awake for during the night. The higher your sleep efficiency the better.

The study also found the more days someone used cannabis the more they expected cannabis improved their sleep. This could lead to people using the drug more and more, and relying on it to get to sleep. 

However, research also shows the drug may not improve sleep as much in those who use cannabis regularly.

Research shows THC can decrease sleep latency in those who don’t usually use cannabis or at low doses in experienced users. But high doses in experienced users may actually increase sleep latency and nighttime awakenings. 

Those who regularly use cannabis (defined as five or more times a week for three months or for two or more years) have been shown to have shorter total sleep duration, less deep sleep, worse sleep efficiency, and longer sleep latency compared to control groups. 

The paper concluded: “While pain reduction and sleep promotion seem promising applications for cannabis use, there are still many unknowns.”

Another 2021 study found cannabis users were more likely to be short sleepers (defined as sleeping less than six hours a night) or long sleepers (defined as sleeping more than nine hours). Both too little and too much sleep have been linked to adverse health effects and death. However, not only does this study rely on self-reported data, the short and long sleep durations may have come before the use of cannabis. 

Plus, it’s not clear whether it’s actually possible to sleep for “too long.” You can learn more about if nine hours of sleep is too much here.

The Ugly 

There’s still a lot we don’t know about cannabis and sleep, and the research we do have has a lot of limitations. 

For example, many studies look at cannabis and pain management, and sleep as a secondary outcome. 

More research needs to be done to say for sure whether cannabis can help or hurt your sleep. As marijuana has only recently become legalized in many US states and other countries across the world, there’s a lack of research on how it affects sleep. Plus, the research that does exist is inconclusive and contradictory. 

Another limitation of cannabis and sleep studies is that because the substance is so widely known to relax and sedate you, there could be a large placebo effect, making it hard to measure how the drug is actually impacting sleep. In fact, one study found edibles can have a placebo effect. 

Plus, the 2021 study we mentioned earlier stated while animal and lab tests are starting to find out how cannabis can affect sleep, human studies are small. 

What’s more, many studies on cannabis and sleep are self-reported, so measures of sleep duration, for example, are prone to recall bias (when participants can’t remember details correctly).

Older studies on cannabis and sleep may not be reliable, either, as cannabis, especially the THC component, is stronger today than it used to be. For example, THC concentration has tripled over the last 20 years. 

Plus, people with sleep problems may turn to cannabis to try and improve their sleep. So it’s often not clear what came first, the sleep problems or the cannabis use. 

Using cannabis for sleep problems can also lead to becoming reliant on it or increasing your dose over time, which may lead to further sleep problems. And stopping your cannabis use abruptly may cause sleep problems, too. More on this below. 

Can Cannabis Cause Sleep Problems?

The jury’s out on whether cannabis can help sleep problems, but can it be the cause of them? Unfortunately, more research needs to be done in this area, too. 

One study found when heavy cannabis users stopped using the drug, they experienced sleep problems like taking longer to fall asleep, less deep sleep, and shorter sleep duration. And abruptly stopping daily or near-daily cannabis has been shown to lead to insomnia. 

Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of cannabis withdrawal among those who used to use the drug at least 25 days a month. 

Cannabis can affect us all differently, too. What makes some people feel sleepy, makes others paranoid and anxious, hindering their chances of sleep rather than helping to improve it in any way. 

A 2014 study even linked cannabis use to sleep problems showing it was associated with an increased likelihood of:

  • Difficulty falling asleep 
  • Difficulty staying asleep 
  • Non-restorative sleep 
  • Daytime sleepiness 

The lead author of the study, Jilesh Chheda, said: “While prior research has shown that many people report using marijuana to relax and possibly as a sleep aid, this latest study found that current and past marijuana users are more likely to experience sleep problems.”

She added: “The most surprising finding was that there was a strong relationship with age of first use, no matter how often people were currently using marijuana. People who started using early were more likely to have sleep problems as an adult.” 

But don’t panic if you already use cannabis. The link hasn’t been proven. People may have sleep problems first, which leads them to turn to cannabis to try and improve their sleep. 

What Happens When You Sleep High?

Going to sleep high? Here’s how cannabis may affect your night. The drug has been shown to change sleep architecture, or how sleep is structured into its different stages. 

The sleep stages include: 

  • Stage 1: When you first begin drifting off.
  • Stage 2, or light sleep: When your breathing, heart rate, and brain activity start to slow down. 
  • Stage 3, or deep sleep: Also known as slow-wave sleep. This is the deepest stage of sleep and it’s the hardest to be woken up from. 
  • Rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM: This is the stage where dreams most often happen.

It takes 70 to 120 minutes to cycle through all the stages. Once you’re done, you’ll begin at stage 1 again for another sleep cycle.

Though we don’t know for sure, some research suggests cannabis causes you to spend more time in deep sleep and less time in REM. Less time in REM can be useful for those who experience traumatic nightmares. But for the rest of us, REM sleep is important for memory consolidation, creativity, and pain response. 

As cannabis can decrease how long it takes you to fall asleep, it may increase how much stage 1 and stage 2 sleep you get.

As cannabis can decrease REM sleep, when you stop using it, you may experience REM rebound. This is when your body spends longer in REM to make up for what it lost out on, meaning you may then lose out on other sleep stages.

What to Use Instead of Cannabis to Improve Sleep?

RISE app screenshot showing when to avoid blue light and other sleep hygiene habits
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Apart from when it’s used to relieve pain and anxiety, cannabis doesn’t get to the bottom of your sleep problems, it may just mask them. Plus, given the mixed results of cannabis and sleep research, you may be better off turning to a sleep aid that has been scientifically proven to help your sleep — and that’s sleep hygiene. 

Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of daily habits you can do to improve your sleep. They can help you fall asleep faster, wake up less often in the night, get more sleep overall, and they’ll ensure the sleep you get is healthy and natural (so called “naturalistic” sleep). 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get natural light first thing: This resets your body clock for the day, making sure you feel sleepy at the right time that evening. 
  • Avoid light before bed: Light suppresses melatonin production, which is the hormone that primes your body for sleep. So, 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses to stop light from your devices from keeping you up. 
  • Make your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit and use earplugs, blackout curtains, and an eye mask to turn your bedroom into the perfect sleep environment. 
  • Cut off caffeine, exercise, large meals, and alcohol at the right time: All four can keep you up or wake you up during the night.

Dive deeper:

You can learn more about sleep hygiene here. 

To help keep on top of all of these daily behaviors, turn to the RISE app. RISE can not only guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, the app can tell you the best time to do them based on your own biology, making them even more effective. 

Even if you do use cannabis for sleep, you’ll still want to keep your sleep hygiene on point. You don’t want late-night bright light or a badly timed coffee to counteract the sleepiness effects of weed. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

Sleep hygiene can be a better bet than cannabis for sleep for several reasons: 

  • It’s proven to help sleep.
  • It’s safe — no side effects, hangovers, or dependency issues. 
  • Children and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding can use it safely.  
  • It’s legal (if cannabis is illegal in your country or state).
  • It’s free. 
  • You may find you don’t even need cannabis to sleep when your sleep hygiene is on point.

Heads-up: Although sleep hygiene is better than cannabis for sleep, cannabis may be better than prescription sleep aids, which come with dangerous side effects. CBD may also be a better choice for you for sleep than cannabis. You can learn more about how CBD might help with sleep here.

How to Use Cannabis to Improve Sleep?

If you do use cannabis to help your sleep, here are a few pointers to get the most benefits from the drug. 

  • Consume it about an hour before bed to get the sleepiness effects at the right time — although beware edibles take longer to kick in than vaping or smoking cannabis. 
  • Cannabis may have a “hangover effect” where it makes you feel sleepy the next morning or day. If you find this happens, reduce your dose. 
  • Experiment with strains with varying amounts of THC and CBD to find one that relaxes and sedates you the most. 
  • Consider different cannabis products and ways to consume them that don’t involve smoking, such as edibles or tinctures. Smoking cannabis can damage your lungs
  • Indica strains have been more associated with sleepiness effects than sativa strains, which tend to make people feel more euphoric and excited. 

You should also try not to rely on cannabis to fall asleep every single night. Consider it as a short-term fix, before going back to sleep hygiene as your main sleep aid and getting to the bottom of your sleep problems. 

Long-term use may reduce how effective cannabis is at improving your sleep, and it increases your odds of developing sleep issues from the drug. Plus, we’re still not sure about the long-term effects of cannabis on sleep. 

Heads-up: Be wary of using cannabis with melatonin supplements to improve your sleep. There are no formal studies looking into how safe it is to mix the two. Speak to a healthcare provider before using both. You can also learn more about melatonin supplements here. 

Sleep Soundly with Sleep Hygiene 

The bottom line is there simply isn’t enough research to say whether cannabis leads to better sleep. Some studies show it helps you fall asleep faster, wake up less often during the night, reduces nightmares, and increases deep sleep. But other studies show it can do the opposite, and even cause further sleep problems. 

If you want a sure-fire way of improving your sleep, turn to sleep hygiene. These daily habits are not only safe, they’re proven to improve poor sleep, without needing cannabis, or anything other sleep aid. 

The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits and tell you the exact right time to do each one, so you’ll be on your way to a good night’s sleep, night after night. 

Go Deeper: Do These Sleep "Aids" Help With Sleep?

Summary FAQs

What happens when you sleep high?

More research needs to be done to find out what happens when you sleep high. Cannabis may shorten how long you spend in the REM sleep stage and increase how long you spend in the light and deep sleep stages, leading to manufactured sleep.

Does weed affect melatonin production?

More research needs to be done on whether weed affects melatonin production. One study found smoking cannabis increased melatonin levels, but the study is from 1986 and only included nine people.

Does weed help with anxiety?

Weed helps with anxiety for many people. CBD has been shown to help with anxiety at all doses, whereas THC decreases anxiety at low doses, but may increase it at high doses. And as anxiety can keep you up, weed can help with sleep this way.

Does weed help with pain?

Weeds help with pain for many people. It’s been shown to decrease chronic pain, nerve pain, migraines, headaches, joint pain, and pain caused by cancer. And as pain can keep you up or wake you up in the night, weed can help with sleep this way.

Weed vs alcohol for sleep

While research on weed for sleep is inconclusive, research on alcohol for sleep shows it makes it worse. Alcohol decreases deep sleep and causes you to wake up more often during the night. Weed may do the opposite, although more research needs to be done to confirm. Both alcohol and weed can decrease REM sleep.

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