As the popularity of CBD continues to skyrocket, sleep is one of the big reasons why people take it. How does it work? The jury is still out on a final answer, but preliminary research has unearthed a few clues.
Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, molecules that have a calming effect on the nervous system and make us feel good—the runner’s high, for example. CBD is a plant source of phytocannabinoids: molecules that are so similar to our own endocannabinoids that our bodies react in much the same way.
These cannabinoids, whether they’re made by our bodies or obtained from CBD supplements, seem to play a role in regulating sleep. A study of cells in the central nervous system found that CBD influences certain genes that regulate our circadian rhythms.
Early research published in 1981 tested different doses of CBD on 15 volunteers with insomnia. It found that people slept significantly more after taking a single 160-mg dose of CBD. A few of the volunteers felt drowsy the next day, but there were no other side effects, no signs of toxicity, and no psychotropic effects of a “high.”
The Sleep-Anxiety Connection
Research published much more recently, in 2019, tested a daily CBD dose of 25 mg in 72 patients at a mental health clinic in Fort Collins, Colo. All were suffering from anxiety and/or insomnia, and were also receiving other treatments, including medications in many cases. The study lasted 3 months, with patients being tested at the end of each month.
After one month, there were significant improvements in anxiety in 79 percent of patients and in sleep among 66 percent, while these conditions worsened among some of the others. Anxiety improvements continued during the remaining 2 months of the study, but sleep fluctuated. For anxiety, CBD was taken in the morning, and for sleep, it was taken after dinner.
Researchers found that CBD was better tolerated than psychiatric drugs, and that there was no evidence of any safety issues. They concluded that although there was significant improvement in sleep among some patients, CBD seemed to hold more promise as a treatment for anxiety.
CBD and Sleep in PTSD and Parkinson’s
One of the manifestations of Parkinson’s disease may be significant and disturbing physical movements during sleep because dreams are acted out. Called REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), the movements can be intense and violent. In Brazil, researchers tested CBD on four Parkinson’s patients and found that it substantially reduced the occurrence of RBD.
Other research has found that CBD reduced nightmares in people suffering from PTSD. In an 8-week study, initial doses of 25–100 mg in capsules followed by daily doses of 1–16 mg in an oral spray were found to be effective. The exact doses were based on how individuals responded to the CBD.
What Kind of CBD to Take
Experts typically recommend starting low and going slow to avoid possible side effects such as drowsiness the next morning. In addition, some forms of CBD take longer to produce an effect, and if this isn’t considered, you could take much more than you need before the real effects kick in. Here’s an estimate of how long different forms take to produce an effect:
Tinctures: When held under the tongue, these are rapidly absorbed, and effects normally become noticeable within about 15 minutes.
Capsules: These must be broken down in your digestive system before being absorbed, and you may not feel an effect for 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Foods and Drinks: CBD in food or drinks also needs to be absorbed through your digestive system. While it may take less time because there’s no capsule to break down, absorption is also influenced by the food or liquid you take in at the same time. Be patient.
Lotions, Balms, and Ointments: If pain is keeping you awake, rubbing topical CBD on the area may be a good choice. It generally takes about 15 minutes to provide relief.
Individual reactions vary, so the right dose for one person may be too much or too little for someone else, and some forms may work better than others. The only way to tell is to try and see how you respond, starting with a low dose.
Chamomile-Magnesium Body Oil
Creating a magnesium bath oil with added CBD is a great way to put your feet up and wind down at the end of a long day. Magnesium is often called “the relaxation mineral,” and luckily, it can be absorbed through the skin. This oil is the perfect ritual to soothe tension and help ease you into a deep sleep.
400 mg magnesium in a topical magnesium oil spray
4 dropperfuls (about 2,400 mg) chamomile liquid extract
4 doses (about 60 mg) of your favorite CBD oil
2 oz. carrier oil of your choice
Combine magnesium oil, chamomile extract, and CBD oil in a 4-oz. colored glass spray bottle. Fill to the top with carrier oil.
To use body oil, shake bottle thoroughly, and massage oil onto your feet, legs, arms, and the back of your neck before bed. You might notice that this leaves a little bit of white residue on your skin—this is just excess salt and can be easily wiped off in the shower or with a washcloth.
CBD Oil: Everyday Secrets (The Countryman Press, 2018) by Gretchen Lidicker.
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