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March is All About Sleep Awareness (and Cannabis Can Help)

Person sleeping on pillow with cannabis oil, capsules, and cannabis branch

March is a big month for sleep. It includes National Sleep Awareness Month, Sleep Awareness Week (March 10-16, 2024), and World Sleep Day (March 15).

It’s probably no surprise that all these sleep-based milestones coincide with Daylight Savings Time (March 10), where we set the clocks forward to grab more of the sun’s rays—while simultaneously losing an hour’s sleep.

So, why is sleep so important?

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep plays a vital role in both physical and emotional health at every stage of life—and in fact, in your overall quality of life.

Studies show that getting enough sleep is key to healthy brain function, assisting in maintaining attention span, learning, sound decision-making, creativity, and more. On the reverse side, lack of sleep can lead to depression, risky behaviors, and more.

In terms of physical health, ongoing sleep deficiency can lead to chronic health problems. It has been linked to an increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

If you’re wondering just how much sleep is enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that adults aged 18–60 years get at least seven hours of sleep per night.

Sleeping Poorly? Cannabis Might Be the Answer

According to the Sleep Foundation, cannabis is widely used as a sleep aid for both recreational and medical users. A few facts to consider:

  • About 70% of young adults who casually use cannabis report that they do so to help them sleep.
  • Approximately half of long-term cannabis users — those who have been using it for 10 years or more — consume it to improve their sleep.
  • As many as 85% of those who use cannabis for medical reasons, like pain relief, say it improves their sleep.

While research into cannabis as a sleep aid is still ongoing, there is some evidence that it may help relieve insomnia when used occasionally.

Cannabis helps promote sleep through cannabinoids that interact with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. When cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they send messages to the brain, telling it to increase levels of adenosine—a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep drive or a person's need to sleep—and suppress the brain’s arousal system.

Along with cannabinoids, cannabis contains active compounds, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) that have an impact on sleep.

THC interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors and neurotransmitters that help regulate a variety of physiological processes, including sleep. When THC binds to receptors in the brain and central nervous system, it can produce a range of effects, including relaxation, pain relief, and a sense of euphoria. While THC generally acts as a sedative, it can stimulate some people, especially those who are new to using cannabis or taking higher doses. For these people, using cannabis before bed might mean it takes them a longer time to fall asleep.

CBD contains sedative properties that could also promote sleep and studies have found that it can increase total sleep time, reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and improve sleep quality. CBD has been shown to have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects in some studies, and it may help reduce symptoms of conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which can all interfere with sleep. Additionally, CBD may have a biphasic effect, meaning low dosages may improve sleep, while higher dosages may interrupt sleep.

Balanced THC/CBD strains can provide a combination of the sleep-promoting effects of THC and CBD.

Which Cannabis Strain is Best for Sleep?

Cannabis comes in two key strains: Sativa and Indica. But which is best for sleeping?

Cannabis Indica strains often have high levels of CBD and are known for their “full-body” high. Indica strains have highly sedative effects and are perfect for those looking for deep relaxation and a good night’s sleep. Indicas are great for people experiencing insomnia, bodily or muscular pain, and anxiety. Indica properties are known to:

  • Relieve body pain
  • Relieve muscle spasms
  • Reduce seizures
  • Relieve stress and anxiety
  • Relax muscles
  • Promote sleep
  • Relieve nausea
  • Improve appetite

Let’s not forget terpenes, the essential oils found in the cannabis plant. Among the most common terpenes found in indica strains is myrcene, which is known for its sedative effects.

Cannabis Sativa strains, on the other hand, are known for producing a “head high” that promotes creativity, energy, and stress relief. They’re more stimulating and are a great option for parties and social gatherings. Sativa strains aid in:

  • Fighting depression
  • Motivation
  • Energy levels
  • Uplifting mood
  • Increasing creativity
  • Improving focus
  • Stimulating appetite

Cannabis for sleep can be smoked, vaporized, eaten, or placed under the tongue as a sublingual tincture. Different products may take more or less time to activate in the body depending on your metabolism. Give yourself time to discover the right combination for you: It may take more than one try to find the right type form of cannabis, dosage, and timing that works for you and your sleep schedule.

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