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4 Ways Cannabis Consumption Can Change the Way You Sleep

We’ve all heard it one way or another: sleep is an important part of a person’s well-being. Not getting enough sleep can cause a host of negative effects, including higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension and stroke. Not to mention, sleep also helps regenerate brain support cells and reorganize the brain; it even helps us store information, and preserve important memories while “downgrading” less significant ones.

Very few of us get the required quantity and quality of sleep, however. Today’s fast-paced lifestyle seems hell-bent on preventing us from getting some shut-eye. The elements that can disturb or delay one’s sleep range from external lights, including the light from your mobile phone, to excessive caffeine consumption. In addition to those, insomnia can be further aggravated by stress and other health problems, preventing us from ever getting the kind of sleep we want and need.

The Stages of Sleep

Insomnia can refer to difficulty in falling asleep, waking up too early, or having difficulty in maintaining sleep. This condition is not entirely dependent on the number of hours a person is able to sleep. Instead, it refers to getting low quality sleep that interferes with a person’s daily activities. While anyone can suffer from a rough night or two, people with chronic insomnia may sleep poorly for more than three weeks. This can cause sleepiness and fatigue during daytime, which may lead to impaired concentration, less-than-stellar mood, and increased risk for accidents. 

The sleep architecture is composed of alternating states of rapid-eye movement (REM) and non-REM (NREM), which cycle about every 90 minutes. The first two stages are NREM -- you are in a half-awake, half-asleep state, slowly sinking into a light sleep that lowers your body temperature and evens out your breathing and heart rate. Stage 3 is where slow-wave sleep (SWS) happens, also known as deep sleep. Your brain starts to produce more delta waves and you become much more difficult to wake.

Stage 4 is a deeper phase of SWS; your muscles are in a highly relaxed state due to increased blood supply, and EEG scans reveal more delta waves. This stage is arguably the most beneficial to the body, as this is when tissue growth and repair occurs and growth hormones are produced. This is also the most restful stage of sleep, where energy is restored.

Stage 5 is REM, or dreaming sleep. The body and brain are direct opposites here: the body is in a state of paralysis, even as breathing patterns and heart rate become erratic, while the brain is highly active. Science has yet to figure out the biological purpose of REM sleep, though it has already been discovered that REM sleep is controlled by the subcoeruleus nucleus found in the brain stem. Damage to these cells causes a condition that does not trigger the muscle paralysis associated with REM, and leads the sufferer to act out their dreams.

How Sleep Affects the Brain

While sleep itself remains a biological mystery, scientists have already identified several areas of the brain involved in the process of wakefulness and sleep. Wakefulness is triggered when so-called “arousal areas” in the cerebral cortex receive neurotransmitters from the brainstem and hypothalamus. One example of these arousal areas is the tuberomammillary nucleus or TMN, which fires histamines as one of its neurotransmitters. This is why many anti-histamine medicines cause sleepiness.

On the other hand, neurons in the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus (VLPO) of the hypothalamus connect directly to the arousal areas of the brain; however, instead of providing stimulation, neurotransmitters from the VLPO inhibits activity in the TMN and other areas, and thus helps promote sleep.

Cannabis and Sleep

The brain also has an endocannabinoid (EC) system, with receptors that directly interact with the natural compounds found in cannabis called cannabinoids. The EC system plays a key role in several of our biological functions; it also alleviates our body’s stress and anxiety responses -- two factors that affect how easily and how well we sleep. Meanwhile, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC resembles a naturally occurring cannabinoid in the brain, anandamide, which helps regulate mood, memory, and sleep. These are among the primary reasons why many people believe the potency of marijuana as a sleep aid.

 

  1. In one study, THC has been found to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep in insomnia sufferers. Other effects of THC include relaxation and pain relief, two factors that affect the overall quality of sleep. This is why indica strains of cannabis, which have higher THC content and therefore more potent sedative effects, are popular for nighttime use. It is also believed that indicas have more relaxing terpenes -- the organic compounds that give cannabis plants their distinctive aromas -- compared to sativas, which have higher CBD or cannabidiol content. CBD is known for inducing alertness, even triggering “awake activity” during sleep.

    It is important to note, however, that while THC does lengthen Stage 4 sleep it also reduces REM sleep, which in turn decreases the number and vividness of dreams. While this may be an unwelcome side-effect to some, people who usually have unsettling dreams may find this a welcome respite.

    Regular users may find that they have developed a tolerance to THC after a while, so regular tolerance breaks may prove useful in renewing cannabis’ sedative effects.
  2. THC, when it degrades, transforms into another cannabinoid called cannabinol or CBN, which is five times more sedating than THC -- this is why the older the cannabis, the sleepier you get. CBN takes quite a long time to form, however, as only a small amount of THC turns into CBN after isomerization or oxidation. What’s good is that, even in small amounts, CBN integrates well with terpenes like linalool, which is also found in other sleep aids. Linalool is known to lower stress levels in the immune system, and is also proven to be a natural antidepressant, anxiolytic, and sedative.
    So before going to sleep, you might want to try sipping a cup of chamomile tea or taking a bath with a few drops of cannabis oil to boost the effects of your aged cannabis.
  3. A few clinical studies have also been conducted to determine how cannabis can help promote better breathing, especially in sufferers of sleep apnea. One such study measured how an exogenous cannabinoid and THC “mimic” called dronabinol affects the apnea hypopnea index (AHI), and found a significant reduction of AHI in 15 out of 17 participants treated with dronabinol.

    Another study, albeit in animals, showed that THC has the ability to restore respiratory stability by regulating serotonin. A certain amount of serotonin, often called the “happy hormone, is required by the nerves that control breathing as these nerves communicate with the brain. If the body’s serotonin system does not work properly, it may not be able to provide the required serotonin supply. Serotonin receptors in the body also control the release of other hormones, including cortisol that plays a key role in controlling muscles used in breathing. These two situations often result in sleep apnea.
  4. THC connects with cell receptors in the brain that help manage the sleep-wake cycle. In a high enough dose, the sedative effects of THC can help you get a longer-lasting deeper sleep. Meanwhile, a terpene called myrcene -- which gives some cannabis strains a mango-like fragrance -- has been reported to prolong sleep up to 2.6 times in mice. Myrcene is also rumored to be able to assist THC in crossing the blood-brain barrier, thus boosting the sedative effects of the cannabinoid.

    The same study also found that limonene, a terpene that give a lemony scent to some cannabis strains, also causes sleepiness and relaxation.

 

CBD is not as popular as THC as a sleep aid, though it can help you get some much needed sleep in other ways. CBD is known to possess analgesic, antidepressant, and anxiolytic properties, which all help alleviate symptoms that make it difficult to fall asleep.

Relieve Sleep Insomnia. SLEEP Is Designed To Prime You For Rest And An Excellent Night’s Slumber.

Marijuana and Sleep - Strains for a Good Night’s Sleep

As a general guideline, using an indica-dominant cannabis strain with up to 20% THC content is the most beneficial when combating sleep disorders. The dose is just enough to trigger the sedative effects, but not too much as to feel dazed or lethargic upon waking up.

  1. Northern Lights. This strain is popular among those suffering from insomnia, as it gives a couch-lock effect that leaves you effectively glued to your bed until the next morning. It’s also a well-known stress reliever, which also contributes to a pleasant sleeping experience. However, as the effects are quite strong, Northern Lights is best left to more experienced cannabis users.
  2. Afghani. This well-known “classic” is popular for its body-focused high that knocks out pain and relieves anxious thoughts. It also brings a hint of blissfulness to its host of positive effects, making it a powerful and effective sleep aid.
  3. Granddaddy Purple. Apart from its very pleasant grape and berry flavors, Granddaddy Purple also contains a high level of the terpene myrcene. This indica strain is also an effective analgesic, and starts with a brief euphoric high before it lulls you to sleep. To top it all off, Granddaddy Purple is also fairly easy to find due to its popularity.
  4. OG Kush. Depending on the breeding process applied, this hybrid can produce an indica or sativa effect. If your difficulties in sleeping is caused by stress-related problems, OG Kush may be the perfect choice as it also helps manage stress and anxiety, allowing you to fall asleep with a peaceful mind. OG Kush is also well-known for its muscle-relaxing effects, so if you find yourself to be a fitful sleeper, you might find this strain a good match.
  5. Blue Cheese. Blue Cheese is internationally known for its potent effects that won’t put you into what’s called a “couchlock.” This indica strain relaxes both the mind and body, so don’t be surprised if you’re able to fall asleep quickly. Blue Cheese also comes with a bonus of having an especially wonderful flavor -- cheese and blueberry. A word of caution to those watching their diet: Blue Cheese is also an appetite stimulant.
  6. Bubba Kush. Bubba Kush is a near-pure indica hybrid between Bubble Gum and Kush. Its THC content isn’t as high as other Kush variants, but this is a well-balanced strain that results into a relaxing high. If you’re having more difficulty sleeping, however, you can take the high further into a couch-lock that makes you feel lazy and weightless.
  7. Critical Mass. This strain is one of the strongest indica-dominant strains available, with an earthy, citrusy flavor that many enjoy. Even small amounts of Critical Mass can be effective in putting one to sleep, which makes it popular for treating insomnia. It also has analgesic effects, so those suffering from chronic pains can also benefit from Critical Mass. Special care must be taken when storing Critical Mass, as it tends to develop mold rather quickly.
  8. Purple Urkle. This indica strain is well-loved for its body high qualities, making it a double-whammy drug for both body pain and insomnia. Purple Urkle is ideal for those who have an active lifestyle and suffer from muscle pain. It’s also quite a delicious smoke, with the combined fragrances of grapes and berries. Those new to cannabis should start with lower doses, as Purple Urkle is potent enough that two to three puffs are enough to obtain its full effects.

 

The current applications and extensive list of positive benefits can be indicative that the helpful qualities of cannabis far outstrip its side effects. However, more research is needed to fully understand how cannabis can affect sleep. But in the meantime, we spend more than a third of our lives asleep -- shouldn’t we make the best out of these hours?

Prime Yourself For An Excellent Night’s Rest: This Is SLEEP.