Cannabis and, more recently, CBD oil has been associated with improving sleep quality by helping users get to sleep quicker and allowing them to stay asleep for longer. For the millions of people across the UK that suffer from sleeplessness and insomnia, this is very good news! It’s estimated that around 16 million adults in the UK suffer from sleeplessness, and a third of those (over 5 million people) say they have insomnia.

Research is showing that CBD has both a direct and indirect effect on sleep. It has a direct regulating action on your sleep cycles as well as alleviating other conditions (such as anxiety and discomfort), which also helps to promote restful sleep. Further research is still needed, although the results from animal studies show promising results.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main cannabinoid in the hemp plant and interacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system to maintain homeostasis (balance). It’s not psychoactive, so users won’t get a ‘high’, but it does have a number of health and wellness-supporting benefits ranging from epilepsy to pain relief, and even sleeplessness.

How CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid System and its impact on deep sleep

Insomnia can be caused by several different factors, including medication, physical conditions, caffeine, environmental factors, and mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The endocannabinoid system plays an important role in a number of body functions, including appetite and mood, as well as sleep and the regulation of circadian rhythms. The endocannabinoid system is a network of cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system, and the immune system. The two primary receptors that have been identified are CB1 and CB2, which the cannabinoids attach to in order to affect the body. In particular, CBD interacts with specific receptors to impact the sleep/wake cycle as well as decreasing anxiety and pain, which also impacts sleep quality.

The direct regulating action of CBD

The body’s circadian rhythm is an internal twenty-four clock that runs in the background of your brain allowing you to cycle between intervals of being asleep and awake. CBD interacts with receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps to regulate your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) and is popular with those that struggle with sleeplessness. One small study looked at the effects of CBD on individuals with insomnia and found that high doses of CBD increased total sleep time and reduced the number of night-time wakeups. These findings have been supported by animal studies that link high doses of CBD to total sleep time and reduced sleep onset latency.

Other causes of disrupted sleep, can also be helped with CBD. For those suffering from REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD), such as those with Parkinson’s Disease, CBD can help. RBD is a disorder that causes the individual to act out their dreams and is associated with poor sleep quality and nightmares.

Insomnia is also typically characterised by daytime grogginess. CBD may be able to promote wakefulness based on studies done on humans and animals.

Indirect Effects of CBD on Sleep

CBD may also be effective in reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of relaxation as it interacts with the endocannabinoid system’s serotonin receptors in the brain. This can then improve sleep quality for those that have affective disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Lower levels of anxiety make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

In a 2019 human study conducted at a psychiatric centre, CBD administration reduced anxiety levels in 80% of patients, and sleep quality improvements were noted in two-thirds of the patients. These findings are supported by a study done on rats that found CBD was able to prevent REM sleep suppression caused by anxiety.

How CBD is Different to Cannabis for Sleep

The most important difference between CBD (which is hemp-derived) and cannabis is the level of THC. In the UK, CBD products are legal, provided that they contain a THC level of less than 0.2% according to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Marijuana has been used for many years are a sleep aid, but the research into the impact of THC on sleep quality is mixed and this is likely due to the THC level. The higher levels of THC are thought to have a profound impact on sleep quality as it may help you to fall asleep but doesn’t help with REM sleep.

There are five stages of sleep, and in one eight-hour night, you will go through the sleep cycle around three times. Stages 1 to 3 are the transition stages are you fall asleep, Stage 4 is “deep sleep” where your body works to restore and replenish itself, and Stage 5 is REM sleep when dreaming happens.

Sleep Latency (Stages 1 – 3) and Deep Sleep (Stage 4)

Older studies have linked the THC in cannabis to increasing deep sleep (Stage 3), while other studies suggest that the sedative effects of THC make it easier to fall asleep quicker as they reduce sleep onset latency.

REM Sleep (Stage 5)

Research consistently shows that THC reduces your eye movement activity during the REM sleep stages, as well as reducing the duration of REM sleep. In a study where THC was ingested in high doses for 20 days, once the drug was eliminated from the body (at the end of the 20 days), there were significant REM rebound effects including a higher density of eye movements during REM sleep as well as longer duration of REM sleep.

Combining Melatonin and CBD Oil to help your sleep

With the positive effects of CBD in resolving sleeplessness, as well as the other wellness-supporting benefits that the cannabinoid offers, it’s no surprise that CBD continues to grow in popularity. Even when compared with cannabis, which has been used for many years to promote sleep quality, the numerous benefits and high levels of safety for all users without the attendant issues (such as compromised REM cycles), make it an excellent choice.

The beneficial effects of CBD to help your sleep behaviour have not gone unnoticed and now brands are becoming available which use Melatonin.

Melatonin is a naturally-created hormone that regulates our sleeping cycle, and many CBD brands are currently looking to include it in their products to boost the effects of CBD oil on achieving a better night’s sleep. In the body, melatonin is released by the pineal gland, however it also has a history of being used as a dietary supplement to combat insomnia. It can help to synchronise the circadian rhythm, and it has been shown to reduce the time taken to fall asleep. The hormone also has antioxidising properties, as it works to increase the effectiveness of other antioxidants within the body.

Melatonin itself produces a feeling of tiredness. This is because sunlight inhibits its production in the pineal gland to keep us awake – when darkness falls, more melatonin is produced, and your body knows it is time to go to sleep. Melatonin hasn’t been proved to increase the length of sleep, but it does help you get to sleep quicker.

CBD Oil and Melatonin both work in different ways, combining these two active ingredients is something many brands are keen to investigate. With Melatonin to help you fall asleep quicker and CBD oil to improve the length and quality of your sleep, this combination could be the magic key to a better night’s sleep overall.

Is Melatonin illegal to buy in the UK?

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body, often referred to as the ‘sleep hormone’ because of its importance for regulating sleep patterns. Manufactured melatonin is available for the relief of short-term sleep problems, helping you fall asleep quicker and wake up less frequently during the night.

In the UK, melatonin is a prescription medication, so while it is not illegal, it is classed as a medicine. Prescription melatonin is generally only available for people over the age of 55 who have insomnia, although it can also help children with sleep problems and prevents headaches in adults. It comes as a slow-release tablet or a liquid.

The UK is not the only country to have banned OTC melatonin, with the European Union, Japan, Australia and most recently Canada following the UK’s example. The reasoning behind the decision taken by the Medicines Control Agency to ban the sale of melatonin on the high street is that the compound is “medicinal by function”, and as such requires a drug license.

In other countries, such as the US, melatonin is available for purchase in health food shops, pharmacies and online. Sold as complementary or herbal medicine, its available in capsule, tablet and liquid form. Melatonin is growing in popularity with over 3.1 million Americans using the supplement to support sleep and combat jetlag. Over-the-counter melatonin is available in up to 10mg doses, over five times the maximum amount allowed with a prescription in the UK. These supplements are illegal in the UK as melatonin is a prescription-only medication.

Because melatonin is not available in the UK, many people are turning to alternatives such as CBD to support and improve the quality of their sleep through its interactions with the endocannabinoid system. CBD is not restricted for sale and can be ordered online or on the high street.

In the UK, as many as one in three people are severely sleep-deprived, and most of those are suffering from chronic (ongoing) insomnia. Chronic insomnia has a number of negative effects that take their toll on your health and wellness, including an increased risk of hypertension, obesity, depression, diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Aside from those with chronic insomnia, two-thirds of the UK’s adult population suffer from disrupted sleep.

According to the Sleep Foundation, there are two main types of insomnia:

Short-Term Insomnia

Also referred to as acute or adjustment insomnia, short-term insomnia is characterised by a brief period of disrupted sleep. It can be caused by a stressful life event such as the loss of a loved one, a job change, or as a symptom of drug withdrawal.

To be categorised as short-term, the condition needs to last for under three months and will often resolve as the person comes to terms with the underlying issue. If it persists, it will then be called chronic insomnia.

It is more common in women and may arise during pregnancy or menopause.

Long-term Insomnia

This is a long-term, ongoing pattern of sleep difficulty. Insomnia is considered chronic if it lasts longer than three nights and affects you at least three nights per week. Chronic insomnia is often reoccurring, may last for months at a time, and people may have a long history of difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

Similar to acute insomnia, chronic insomnia has a number of potential causes including stressful situations, poor sleep hygiene, changing sleep schedules, mental health conditions, medication and other sleep disorders (such as sleep apnoea).

Chronic insomnia occurs in all types of people. It affects more women than men, and older people are at higher risk of developing the disorder. If you work night shifts or shifts that rotate or have an underlying mental or physical health condition, you are also more at risk of insomnia.

There are also a few different ways that insomnia can be categorised:

  • Sleep onset insomnia; this is difficulty falling asleep and often affects shift workers. Taking longer to fall asleep reduces the total sleep time, and there are enduring effects the next day.
  • Sleep maintenance insomnia, this is an inability to stay asleep through the night, which means waking for periods of time and struggling to get back to sleep. Fragmented sleep reduces both sleep quality and quantity and results in daytime sleepiness.
  • Early morning awakening insomnia, this is when the person wakes up long before they plan to in the morning, and means that their mental and physical function is impaired the next day.
  • Mixed insomnia, although not a formal classification, mixed insomnia affects many people. It is applied to people who have a combination of problems including falling asleep, staying asleep and waking early. Many people struggle with overlapping sleep problems, and the symptoms can shift over time.
  • Secondary insomnia, also called comorbid insomnia, arises as a result of underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, pain or other sleep conditions.

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