According to the National Sleep Foundation, about one-third of the United States population suffers from insomnia. Additionally, they also found in a 2016 survey that two-thirds of Americans either have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. With the pervasive effects of sleep-related issues, almost everyone is looking for a solution. This led some people to start using marijuana as a sleep-aid, but what works best for supporting the full sleep cycle, CBD or THC?
What is REM Sleep?
Rapid Eye Movement sleep, commonly referred to as REM sleep, is a specific phase of sleep classified by the seemingly random movement in the eyes. It typically occurs about ninety minutes after falling asleep. Most people know of the REM cycle as the phase in the sleep cycle when you dream. This makes it a unique phase different from all other phases of sleep.
The distinct nature of REM sleep is why the sleep cycle is commonly split up between REM sleep and non-REM sleep despite non-REM sleep containing three stages. While all of these stages contribute to a healthy sleep cycle, REM sleep and non-REM sleep have significant differences that are not seen between the three stages of non-REM sleep.
THC Induces Sleep but Reduces REM Sleep
Now that you understand the importance of the REM sleep cycle to your overall health, can you use either CBD or THC to support a healthy sleep cycle? According to an article discussing the CBD/THC relationship from Online Dispensary Canada, THC & CBD work even better when taken together, something described as the entourage effect. When looking at them individually, however, THC seems to act as a sedative meaning it can help someone fall asleep and stay asleep, it also seems to reduce the amount of time spent in the REM cycle.
This is because people regularly associate marijuana use with a lack of dreaming. It also explains why people who stop using marijuana after using it regularly for an extended period of time experience intense dreaming.
After experiencing a deprivation of the REM sleep cycle, the body tends to rebound by entering the REM cycle faster and more frequently. So, while THC seems to help some people fall asleep, it tends to actually decrease the amount of REM sleep you experience. You can read the full article comparing the properties of THC & CBD here.
When Would THC Work Well for Sleep?
Even though THC seems to reduce the amount of time spent in the REM sleep cycle, that is exactly what some individuals need for a healthy sleep schedule. This particularly holds true for individuals suffering from PTSD or regularly experience nightmares. By reducing the amount of time spent in the REM sleep cycle, you also reduce the amount of time you spend dreaming.
While dreaming is healthy for most people, if you regularly experience night terrors or suffer PTSD, just thinking about dreaming can cause a sense of fear and dread. This is why some users feel that THC is an extremely effective sleep aid as it reduces the amount of time spent dreaming allowing them to fall asleep easier without the fear of nightmares. While they may not experience the full range of benefits from a healthy sleep cycle that includes REM sleep, it’s still far better than not receiving enough sleep overall.
What About Using CBD for REM Sleep?
So, if THC can help someone fall asleep but it reduces the amount of REM sleep, could you use CBD to promote a healthy sleep cycle? Well, according to a Consumer Reports survey, 10% of people who use CBD use it to help with sleep. Most of those who used CBD to help with sleep claimed it worked. Scientific studies seem to agree with this anecdotal evidence suggesting that CBD could help with falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.
Additionally, CBD does not seem to affect a person’s natural sleep cycle. This means that unlike THC, CBD can help with inducing sleep while also maintaining a normal REM sleep cycle. However, it’s unclear whether the benefits to sleep come from the CBD itself or the terpene myrcene which is commonly found in high-CBD strains.
Myrcene is regularly found in high-CBD strains of marijuana as well as a few other plants including mangoes, basil, thyme, lemongrass, and hops. Studies suggest that myrcene acts as an effective sedative that helps people fall asleep. This is the main reason that hops are commonly associated with a sedating effect. Some people believe this terpene is why people associate CBD with helping users fall asleep. This confusion is only made worse by the fact that most scientific studies on using CBD for sleep use CBD alongside other cannabinoids and terpenes. All of these factors make it difficult to determine exactly what causes the sleep-enhancing effects so many users associate with consuming CBD.
However, this confusion seems to dissipate by the fact that people who use pure CBD isolates still claim that it helps them fall to sleep. While this is only anecdotal evidence that could be explained by the placebo effect, most people who use CBD seem to agree that it helps with sleep. Despite all of this confusion, whether it’s CBD or myrcene causing these sedating effects people associate with CBD does not matter a whole lot to the end-user.
If you use a full-spectrum CBD product which most people in the field recommend anyways, it will most likely contain myrcene and CBD so that you can benefit from both.
Summary of REM Importance & THC/CBD’s Effect
While researchers still do not know the exact function of REM sleep, a number of studies show the importance of this stage of the sleep cycle. One study even found that rats deprived of REM sleep die in a matter of just four to six weeks. Other studies have shown various lab animals exhibit increases in aggression after prolonged periods of REM sleep deprivation. Researchers have also theorized that proper REM sleep could contribute to:
- Preservation of memory
- Neural ontogeny
- Defensive immobilization
- Oxygen supply to the Cornea
- Recovery of the monoamine receptors in the brain
To sum this all up, while THC can help with sleep, it also reduces the amount of time spent in the REM sleep cycle. On the other hand, CBD can also help with sleep but it maintains your natural sleep cycle meaning your body still goes into the REM stage of sleep as it normally would.