Can CBD Improve Your Sleep? The Experts Weigh In

There are a lot of questions about this experimental sleep aid. Here’s what we know about CBD and sleep.

Woman sleeping peacefully after using CBD
iStockphoto/francescoridolfi.com

There are many proven strategies to better the quality of your sleep, such as leaning away from blue light and alcohol in the hours before you hop into bed, and opting for room-darkening curtains and a cool room temperature. But these days, more and more companies are marketing products that include a unique ingredient for better shuteye: CBD.

Used in everything from trendy lotions and lattes to massage oils, CBD — short for cannabidiol — is a chemical compound from the Cannabis sativa plant. While effects vary from person to person, research shows that CBD can have a calming effect on people.

There are two forms of the Cannabis sativa plant: hemp and marijuana. Hemp is the least processed form and contains high levels of CBD with lower traces of THC. Marijuana, however, has low levels of CBD and high levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol — which causes the “high”). As a result, you will often see CBD products marketed as “THC-free.”

What the latest research says about CBD for sleep

CBD is so new to the market that when it comes to CBD and sleep, most research backs the need for further study of CBD. A recent study of persons suffering from Parkinson’s disease, however, indicated that CBD was able to reduce REM (rapid eye movement) sleep disorders.

How does CBD compare to melatonin for sleep?

Unlike melatonin, CBD doesn’t yield the same result for everyone.

While melatonin puts you in a state of calmness before sleep, CBD can do the opposite: When taken in low doses, it can make you feel alert. If used to promote wakefulness in the morning, you could use CBD help regulate your sleep wake-cycle.

In higher doses above 15 milligrams, however, studies have seen CBD use associated with an increase in sleep. However, in one 3-month study where participants with anxiety took 25 to 50 mg of CBD, researchers found that sleep improvements decreased month over month, suggesting CBD is not a long-term answer for better sleep.

Here are other considerations:

1. Be wary of extreme promises and CBD claims

Currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one CBD product, for the treatment of seizures. The FDA is aware that some companies are marketing products containing CBD in ways that violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and that may put the health and safety of consumers at risk, and it is monitoring unproven CBD claims around serious diseases and product contamination.

To feel more confident about your purchase, you can ask the brand for a certificate of analysis (COA), which lets you know if the product contains the amount of CBD advertised.

A COA will also list:

  • how much CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids the product has
  • potential contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, or microbes
  • which lab did the testing (ideally a third-party lab)

2. Effects will vary, based on your health

There has been plenty of conflicting research, with many results dependent on the individual’s health. One study found that it can increase sleep duration for people with clinical conditions, while another published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that CBD had zero impact on sleep in healthy volunteers.

Dr. Dustin Sulak, D.O., an integrative medicine physician based in Maine, has seen mixed results with his patients who experiment with CBD use.

“There’s a portion of people who take it before bed and sleep great, and then others who are not affected,” he says, adding that some research has found that CBD can actually keep individuals awake at night. “Like everything when it comes to cannabis, there’s a wide individual variability.”

3. Sleep issues stemming from anxiety and pain disorders may benefit from CBD

“For many people, their sleep issues may be rooted in anxiety,” says Dr. Chris Winter, a sleep specialist, neurologist, and Sleep.com advisor. “It’s not that they can’t sleep, it’s that they’re scared that they cannot. That anxiety loop can make it such that people will take longer to fall asleep, and that’s where I can see CBD coming into play.”

One 2020 study found that individuals who took CBD for treatment for anxiety and depression reported less symptoms and an improvement in their ability to perform daily functions. The three-month study mentioned above also found sustained decrease in anxiety symptoms with use of CBD.

Studies show that pain, especially the anxiety around pain disrupting sleep, may be treated with CBD. One analysis concluded that CBD is effective for pain management, especially when inhaled.

Ways to use CBD

Person opening a tub of CBD cream for their bed
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Since the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD, it can be hard to know if the product contains the advertised amount. An analysis of CBD products online found that 26% of products has less CBD while 43% had more. Some products were also found to include THC, which can be dangerous for children if accidentally consumed.

If you choose to purchase a CBD product, look for labels that identify the CBD isolate and indicate whether or not the product contains broad-or full-spectrum CBD. Then check the COA to identify the level of CBD and other chemicals in the product. If a product is labeled full-spectrum CBD, then it may have trace amounts of THC in it.

You can use CBD through oral, inhalation, and topical forms such as:

  • sprays, for under the tongue
  • pills and capsules
  • vapes juice for vape pens and vapes
  • topical oils, lotions, patches, and bath bombs
  • tinctures, edible oils, and gummies

Some oral forms will be formulated with other ingredients that help with sleep, such as lavender and melatonin.

Risks and side effects of CBD

Sulak recommends starting dosages between 10 and 25 milligrams, though controlled studies have included oral amounts from 300mg to 1,500 mg to gauge risks and side effects. When researchers looked at people who took 1,500mg daily, experts reported that the most common side effects included tiredness, diarrhea, and changes of appetite/weight.

The Mayo Clinic reports additional symptoms such as dry mouth and drowsiness. The appearance of these symptoms may depend on how much CBD you’re taking, and if CBD is interacting with any existing medications you’re already taking. Talk to a doctor before adding CBD to your bedside table.

Still, Sunak says that the risks associated with CBD use are quite low. “Because it’s typically so well tolerated, even into the triple digits in terms of milligrams, that offers room for individuals to experiment with products and see how it makes them feel, especially with sleep,” he says.

What is the bottom line on CBD?

A little fuzzy? We hear you.

If you want to completely avoid CBD and target the underlying causes of your sleep problems instead, there are plenty of alternative, researched-backed supplements and techniques to try. For anxiety and stress, we love progressive muscle relaxation, essential oils, and journaling before bed. When it comes to pain and sleep, try heat compresses, massages, or switching up your pillows and mattress.