CBD Oil for Sleep and Insomnia

Roughly 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, and one in every three adults doesn’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. That’s a lot of people experiencing sleep problems.

Tired and exhausted, many people turn to sleep aids to treat their sleep problems. However, many of these—in particular over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids—can cause adverse side effects. That’s why many seek out alternative therapies to improve their sleep, such as CBD oil.

CBD naturally induces feelings of tiredness and relaxation. However, CBD also appears to be effective at helping reduce symptoms of the related health issues that often cause or exacerbate sleep problems, such as chronic pain or anxiety.

In this guide we’ll review everything you need to know about CBD and sleep, from how it works to how to find the best dose and product for your sleep needs.

What Is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is extracted from cannabis. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of over 100 chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. These compounds are known as cannabinoids, and they have varying effects on the human body when ingested.

Another well-known compound is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is what gives marijuana its characteristic “high.” Both THC and CBD are found in marijuana and hemp, which are two strains of the cannabis plant. Marijuana tends to contain higher levels of THC, usually between 5% to 20%.

While THC and CBD both come from the same plant, they differ in their effects on the human body. The most prominent difference is that CBD will not get you high. If anything, you might feel a sense of relaxation. While THC is broadly used for both medical and recreational use, the majority of CBD users take CBD oil to treat a health problem.

The research is still developing, but so far studies indicate that CBD provides relief for a wide range of health conditions, due to the way it interacts with neuroreceptors in the brain and located in your body’s endocannabinoid system. The most common conditions people use CBD to treat are summarized in the chart below:

different health conditions people use cbd to treat

Since CBD is primarily used for its health benefits instead of a recreational high, CBD oil is usually sourced from industrial hemp. Hemp contains higher levels of CBD and 0.3% THC or less. Due to its low THC content, hemp is federally legal nationwide, which makes CBD oil much easier to purchase both online and in stores.

What Kind of Sleep Issues Can CBD Help Treat?

Healthy sleep is defined as being able to sleep 7 hours or more on a nightly basis, without significant issues falling or staying asleep. If this doesn’t sound like you, you may have a sleep issue.

Sleep issues can include a general difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia); breathing problems which disturb the quality of your sleep (snoring and sleep apnea); or other sleep disorders like narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders, and more.

Affecting nearly a third of adults, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. It can be acute or chronic. Acute insomnia refers to short-term sleep issues lasting up to a few weeks. This type of insomnia is typically caused by stress, and affects 15% to 20% of adults. Chronic insomnia is more rare, experienced by only 10% of adults, and describes a long-term form of insomnia where the individual has an inability to fall or stay asleep on a regular basis.

Sleep issues of any kind should be taken seriously. The sleep deprivation caused by inadequate sleep, or inadequate quality sleep, negatively impacts your mental, emotional, and physical functioning. In the long term, these effects become more pronounced, leading to impaired performance at work or school, weight gain, memory loss, and depression. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to serious health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Many people who experience sleep issues are at their wits’ end. They’re tired, they’re irritable, and they feel burnt out. Often, sleep issues can be resolved by cognitive behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes. However, many people turn to over the counter and prescription sleeping pills out of desperation. These can have seriously negative side effects, including dependency, drowsy driving, and even increased risk of cancer. At a minimum, they often result in daytime drowsiness, which just perpetuates the problem.

This is why many people are turning to natural methods, like CBD oil, to treat their insomnia and occasional sleep issues. CBD oil is safe, presents little side effects, and is easy to purchase online. Best of all, people do not develop a tolerance to CBD the way they do with sleep aids.

Can CBD Oil Improve Sleep?

For most people who are experiencing insomnia, whether on a chronic or short-term basis, it’s likely due to an underlying issue. Sleep specialists and therapists will often search for and treat this issue first, as sleep problems and the originating issue share a cyclical relationship. Treating one tends to relieves the other.

Treating this underlying issue is where CBD oil appears most effective. Specific studies surrounding CBD and sleep are limited (although we’ll review these below). However, there are several studies of CBD providing positive relief for common ailments which lead to sleep issues, and the CBD in turn relieving the insomnia as a happy side effect.

Some of the most common causes behind sleep issues are chronic pain, anxiety, and epilepsy.

Pain

20% of adults suffer from chronic pain, whether from a back or neck injury, arthritis and joint pain, or fibromyalgia. Sleep can be elusive for these individuals, as it’s difficult for them to get comfortable enough to relax sufficiently to fall and stay asleep. Problematically, a lack of sleep tends to also worsen their pain.

Fortunately, several studies indicate CBD oil is very effective at relieving chronic pain, due to its anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties.

When people with chronic pain ingest CBD oil, the CBD binds to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, as well as receptors in the peripheral nervous system and immune system. The CBD’s interaction with the CB1 receptors in the brain boost mood, helping adjust the brain’s response to and perception of the pain. Meanwhile, it interacts with CB2 receptors throughout the body to target the areas experiencing pain, facilitating endocannabinoid production to reduce inflammation.

Anxiety

While people with chronic pain have difficulty getting their bodies to physically relax at night, people with anxiety have the same issue with their mind. Their thoughts race at night with worry, making it hard for them to relax and fall asleep.

As many as a third of individuals with insomnia also have an anxiety disorder. Everyday stress alone is a top cause of short-term insomnia. Unfortunately, many of the drugs prescribed to treat anxiety, such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines, can alter sleep architecture. CBD, meanwhile, does not interfere with sleep cycles, enabling it to aid in anxiety relief and also promote better sleep.

People with anxiety and depression often have lower serotonin levels, and lifting these can lift their mood and make their anxiety easier to manage. CBD does exactly that, by targeting 5HT1A receptors in the brain which are involved in serotonin production. Various studies have shown that the anxiolytic effects of CBD effectively reduce anxiety in individuals with various anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder and PTSD.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States. The processes that regulate sleep and seizures both stem from the brain, so this is an example of a disorder where the health issue worsens sleep, and lack of sleep worsens the disorder. Individuals with epilepsy may suffer from various sleep issues that impair their ability to get a full night of restful sleep, including nocturnal seizures, sleep deprivation, and sleep apnea.

A wealth of research has looked into the benefits of CBD for treating epilepsy, perhaps more so than with any other disorder. In studies of people with drug-resistant epilepsy, CBD is able to reduce their number of monthly seizures by anywhere from a third to over half.

Many states that legalized medical CBD before it became legal nationwide did so specifically to allow physicians to prescribe it to their patients with epilepsy. In fact, the first CBD drug approved by the FDA, Epidiolex, is used to treat severe forms of epilepsy.

Studies on CBD and Sleep

There are also a limited number of studies that look specifically at CBD’s ability to target and resolve specific sleep issues, including sleep apnea and insomnia.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes the individual to momentarily stop breathing during the night, making them choke or gasp as the brain wakes the body back up to begin breathing again. Even if the individual doesn’t consciously wake up, the apnea interrupts their sleep cycles, reducing the quality of their sleep. Further, sleep apnea has been linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver problems, and death.

Researchers estimate that about 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Problematically, they suspect that 80% of those cases go undiagnosed. A very small number of studies have observed the effects of synthetic medical CBD in treating sleep apnea. In these studies, the CBD appears to stabilize the individual’s respiratory patterns and positively affect their upper airway muscles, resulting in improved breathing. In the chart below from a 2015 study, the black bars represent the injection of dronabinol (the synthetic CBD), demonstrating how it reduced the duration of the patients’ apnea:

study shows cbd helps sleep apnea

However, due to the limited number of studies and lack of FDA approval, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine still does not recommend using CBD to treat sleep apnea until further testing has been done.

Insomnia

Part of what makes CBD so exciting for medical researchers is its ability to adapt to the body’s needs. For example, in individuals with chronic pain, it targets the cannabinoid receptors in the part of the body experiencing pain, providing relief where it is needed. Likewise, while CBD significantly reduces anxiety in individuals with anxiety, it doesn’t produce similar effects in healthy individuals who don’t have anxiety.

CBD appears to have a similar adaptability when it comes to sleep problems. For some individuals, they experience tiredness as a side effect of CBD. However, a study of rats with sleep found that CBD actually increased their alertness, indicating it could be effective for helping individuals with excessive somnolence, such as hypersomnia.

For many, the slight soporific effect of CBD is enough to aid their mild insomnia. However, there are studies indicating CBD relieves more severe forms of insomnia, as well.

  • CBD stabilized sleep patterns in rats with fragmented NREM sleep in one 2016 study.
  • Other studies have found that CBD may be helpful for treating REM sleep behavior disorder, excessive daytime sleepiness, and PTSD-related nightmares.
  • One case study found that a regular dose of CBD, even in low doses, reduced both the symptoms of PTSD in a pediatric population while also improving sleep.
  • In a study of rheumatoid arthritis, the CBD both improved the participants’ RA symptoms as well as the quality of their sleep.
  • In a 2019 study of individuals with anxiety, the sleep scores for two-thirds of participants improved within the first month after beginning a CBD regimen.

Does CBD Oil Have Any Side Effects?

Experiencing side effects when taking CBD is rare. If experienced at all, they tend to be minimal. However, they may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Changes in body weight or appetite
  • Low blood pressure

Most commonly, when side effects occur, they tend to be among people who are taking other medication, and the side effect occurs as a result of the interaction between the CBD and their medication. For this reason, it’s recommended that individuals taking medication for another condition consult with their doctor before starting CBD, to avoid experiencing any negative side effects.

Other demographics who should practice caution before taking CBD include children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. A lack of research has been done into these populations regarding the safety of CBD, so it’s safest to avoid CBD unless otherwise recommended by a doctor or pediatrician.

What’s the Best Way to Use CBD Oil for Sleep?

CBD oil can be taken in a variety of ways, from sublingual tinctures to topical creams. You can use any of these ingestion methods to help you sleep.

  • Sublingual: CBD tinctures come in bottles with a dropper you can use to add the CBD below your tongue (sublingually) in individual drops. People prefer this method because it’s simple and fast-acting, although some don’t like the earthy flavor of CBD which you can taste with this method.
  • Topical: CBD products designed for topical application include creams, lotions, lip balms, and transdermal patches. You can rub or massage these onto your skin, allowing the CBD to enter your bloodstream. Topical application is preferred by those with chronic pain, as the massage can further reduce inflammation, as well as anyone who doesn’t like the taste of CBD.
  • Inhalation: Inahaling CBD through a vape pen or vaporizer is one of the quickest ways to get CBD into your system, almost immediately. For this reason, many individuals with anxiety prefer this method for its quick relief. However, users of all kinds may enjoy this method as they can purchase the vape liquids in different flavors, helping mask the earthy flavor of the CBD.
  • Edible: Baked CBD products, as well as CBD candies and gummies, can come in different flavors as well. Some people prefer CBD edibles because they enjoy eating the product. Alternately, CBD powders can be added to food or drink.
  • Capsules: CBD capsules can be swallowed like traditional over-the-counter medication. People prefer this method as it is tasteless and odorless, and a familiar form of ingestion.

How Much CBD Oil Should You Take for Sleep?

The strength of CBD oil is measured in milligrams. Because CBD is not regulated by the FDA, there are no official dosing guidelines for CBD. Generally, the rule of thumb is to start with 1mg to 2mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of your body weight.

However, based on research and anecdotal evidence, a moderate amount appears to be more effective for individuals with sleep issues. In a study of people with epilepsy and insomnia, higher doses of 160mg appeared more effective than lower doses of 40mg to 80mg. In another  study focusing on otherwise healthy individuals, researchers found that 15mg was not enough to  affect sleep, and actually increased alertness. A moderate amount appeared to be more effective.

The best CBD dose for you depends on the severity of your sleep issues, your body weight, and your personal body chemistry. We’ve provided dosage recommendations you can follow below based on your body weight:

Body WeightCBD Dose for Sleep
100 lbs21-49 mg
110 lbs23-54 mg
120 lbs25-59 mg
130 lbs13-26 mg
140 lbs27-64 mg
150 lbs29-69 mg
160 lbs31-74 mg
170 lbs33-79 mg
180 lbs35-84 mg
190 lbs37-89 mg
200 lbs39-94 mg
210 lbs41-99 mg
220 lbs43-104 mg
230 lbs45-109 mg
240 lbs47-114 mg
250 lbs49-119 mg
260 lbs53-129 mg
270 lbs55-134 mg

You can use this chart as a starting place, although you may need to take more or less. Don’t worry about adjusting your dose to meet your needs. CBD is very safe and presents few or rare side effects, even when taken in chronic doses as high as 1,500mg per day.

Once you find a dose that’s effective, stop adjusting and stick with it. People do not develop a tolerance to CBD the way they do with THC.

When Should You Take CBD Oil to Help You Sleep?

The form of ingestion you use affects how quickly you can expect to feel the effects of CBD. Based on the ingestion method here’s how long it will take for the CBD to kick in:

  • Oral: 30 to 90 minutes
  • Sublingual: 5 to 20 minutes
  • Topical: 1 to 2 minutes
  • Inhalation: 1 to 2 minutes

As you can see, inhalation and topical methods are the fastest-acting, within 1 to 2 minutes. Sublingual tinctures can take a bit longer, up to 20 minutes. The slowest-acting method is oral ingestion (edibles and capsules), as the CBD has to go through your digestive system, before entering your bloodstream where it can work its effects. During this process, some of the CBD will be lost to the digestive system, so you’ll also need to take a higher dosage with oral methods to maintain the same effectiveness.

Typically, a good time to take CBD is 30 to 60 minutes before your bedtime. If you use an oral method, you may want to take your CBD even earlier, about 90 minutes before your bedtime.

Where Can You Buy CBD Oil?

As of December 2018, CBD is federally legal nationwide. That means you can purchase it online anywhere in the United States. Depending on your state’s friendliness towards CBD, you can often buy CBD in physical stores as well, including cannabis shops, medical marijuana dispensaries, and drug stores.

When purchasing CBD oil, you’ll want to do a bit of research first (like you already are by reading this guide). You want to ensure that you can trust the manufacturer’s word regarding the concentration of CBD in their products. A study of 84 CBD products sold online found THC in over 20% of them. Considering that you may not want THC in your product at all (especially if marijuana is illegal in your state), it’s important to know that you can trust what the label says.

Good indicators that you’ve found a reputable manufacturer include:

  • CO2 extraction process: The best process for extracting CBD oil from hemp uses carbon dioxide. A CO2 extraction process is the most effective at producing pure CBD oils, free of other fats or lipids. Avoid manufacturers that use other methods of extraction, such as butane.
  • Pure CBD products: Pure CBD products are safer and less likely to contain other potentially harmful ingredients than synthetic CBD. Trusted manufacturers will make it a point of pride that they only sell pure CBD.
  • USA-grown, non-GMO hemp: Products sourced from industrial hemp contain higher amounts of therapeutic CBD. They’re also legal. Look for information on the manufacturer’s website about where and how their hemp is grown.
  • Third-party testing: A reputable manufacturer will use an independent lab to test the purity and concentration of CBD and other ingredients in their products. Furthermore, they’ll be transparent about providing these test results on their website and/or in their product packaging.
  • Positive online reviews: Finally, the manufacturer will openly display reviews on their website, and what you see there will match what you find on other websites and forums. Look for reviews from happy customers about the CBD helping them with their sleep, and feel free to verify these experiences with others on forums like Reddit or CBD Forums.

Finally, when choosing your CBD products, consider whether you’re interested in full-spectrum or isolate CBD. CBD isolates contain no THC whatsoever, while full-spectrum CBD also contains other cannabinoids, and up to 3% THC. Some people prefer full-spectrum CBD as the additional cannabinoids create an “entourage effect” which provides a better sense of relief.

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