CBD: Sleep Disorders

CBD: Sleep Disorders

Every human being, from time to time and for various reasons, can suffer from lack of sleep. Sporadic isolated instances of sleep deprivation are rarely cause for alarm. But for some, chronic patterns of sleep deprivation, or even diagnosed sleep disorders such as insomnia or narcolepsy, have far reaching consequences.

Because rest is so essential to productivity in many areas of life, it's encouraging to see new treatment options emerge. One such option is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which has a number of positive effects on sleep patterns. This article will explore the risks of chronic sleeplessness and then demonstrate how the treatment option of CBD has been the answer for many.

The Scope of the Sleeplessness Problem

According to the popular website WebMD.com, there are some surprising and serious effects to chronic loss of sleep. Here are ten of them: (1)

  1. Sleepiness causes accidents
    Sleep deprivation was a factor in some well-known accidents, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fatigue is a cause in 100,000 auto accidents a year, and over 1,500 crash-related deaths. Job-related accidents can also become an issue.
  2. Sleep Loss Dumbs You Down
    Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving. Also, during the night, sleep plays a critical role in consolidating memories. Lack of sleep can impact the power of recall.
  3. Sleep Deprivation Linked To Serious Health Conditions
    It is well-documented that chronic sleep loss plays a role in heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes, to name a few. It can also exacerbate the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.
  4. Lack of Sleep Kills Sex Drive
    Depleted energy, sleepiness and increased tension contribute to a decline in sex drive. But even more directly, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2002 suggests that sleep deprivation causes low testosterone levels.
  5. Sleepiness Contributes to Depression
    The most common sleep disorder, insomnia, has a strong link to depression, according to a 2007 study of 10,000 people.(2) In fact, insomnia can be an early indicator of the presence of depression.
  6. Lack of Sleep Ages Skin
    Lack of sleep causes the body to release elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is known to break down collagen, a protein directly linked to the appearance of skin. Sleep deprivation also retards the body's release of human growth hormone, which is necessary to maintain muscle mass, thicken skin and strengthen bones as we age.
  7. Losing Sleep Leads to Weight Gain
    According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept 8 hours.(3) Sleep loss both stimulates appetite and increases the peptides that regulate hunger.

Typically, physicians will do one of two things with regard to sleep deprivation. First, they usually prescribe narcotics to induce and maintain sleep. However, these narcotics interfere with normal brain activity needed to process and empty various parts of the brain. The second thing physicians do is treat the symptoms of sleep deprivation without ever addressing the root cause.

CBD provides an all-natural alternative to strong medications to restore and maintain healthy sleep patterns. Delving into how the brain works during sleep provides a better understanding of these wake and sleep patterns and how CBD has a positive impact on multiple fronts.

Understanding Sleep Cycles

According to the website howsleepworks.com there are two distinct stages of sleep. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep occurs in cycles of about 90-120 minutes throughout the night.(4) It dominates the latter half of the sleep period in the hours just before waking. REM sleep also separates multiple stages of deeper sleep. This stage is characterized by the side-to-side movements of the closed eyes. It's believed this stage is associated with brain wave rejuvenation in different parts of the brain than a deeper sleep.

Non-REM sleep provides for deeper relaxation and rejuvenation of different parts of the brain. The cycles of non-REM sleep produce stronger and lower brain waves and they are separated by cycles of REM sleep. There are 5-6 cycles in an 8 hour period of sleeping, with each cycle fulfilling a distinct physiological and neurological function necessary for the health and wellness of the body.

This is important to note because most sleeplessness occurs during the REM cycles of brain function, when individuals can awaken between deeper sleep cycles and be unable to fall back to sleep.

CBD Impacts REM Sleep

Research indicates that CBD has a positive effect for those who suffer from sleep disorders. In particular, it appears to block REM sleep in a way that keeps individuals asleep who are susceptible to waking during these lighter sleep cycles.(5)

CBD oil contains anxiolytic (anxiety-inhibiting) properties that block REM sleep. So rather than direct sleep regulation as say, a narcotic would have, CBD impacts the brain function by leveling out the brain activity most likely to cause awakening events in REM sleep cycles.

In a small, but significant study of 15 insomniacs, CBD dosages were administered in varying amounts. Those receiving the highest dosage noted significant increases in sleep, and less dream recall, which is an indicator of deeper sleep.(6)

Up-/down-state Transitions

Up-/down-state transitions are a form of network brain activity observed when sensory input into the cortex is diminished during non-REM sleep.(7) Up-states during sleep occur from coordinated signaling between brain synapses and are modulated by systems that affect the balance between inhibition and excitation.

The endocannabinoid (EC) system, a neuromodulartory system intrinsic to the brain's microcircuitry, is a critical regulator of up-states and sleep. Activation of the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1) with exogenous agonists by blocking metabolism endocannabinoids, increased up-state amplitudes and facilitated action potential discharge during up-states. The interesting result is that the synaptic signaling in the brain that misfires and results in sleeplessness saw a marked decrease in both the amplitude and frequency of the spiking brainwaves that result in sleeplessness.

An Important Secondary Sleep Response

Another important effect of CBD on sleep lies in its ability to stimulate the production of two fatty acids - monoacyglycerol lipase and amide hydrolase - and their impact in producing non-REM sleep.(8) This secondary response to CBD was similar to the early effects of the CB1 blockade, which fragmented NREM sleep and caused episodes of wakefulness during the REM periods between the deeper NREM cycles.

Administering CBD, which creates a CB1 blockade, had broadband power within the brainwave activity during NREM sleep cycles. These results support the hypothesis that endocannabinoid signaling through CB1 is a necessary component for NREM stability. The observations have a good deal of positive research associated with them in both rodent and primate studies and merit more study with human subjects suffering from sleep deprivation.

So recalling that most sleep deprivation occurs in the REM cycles that punctuate the deeper NREM cycles, it makes sense that modulating the neural activity of CB1 and CB2 receptors to curtail brain activity specifically during REM sleep cycles would have a positive impact on an individual's ability to both achieve and maintain NREM sleep cycles.

Related Anxiety and Stress Disorders

While there are most certainly physiological causes underlying sleep disorders, there are also cases where the primary causation can be anxiety, stress or other points of inflammation within the body that make it difficult to fully relax and sleep. CBD has been shown to positively impact these causes of sleep disorders as well in a few different ways. Mental Health Daily, an online research and blog resource for all issues related to mental health, recently dove into the topic of CBD and its effect on stress, anxiety and depression. Here are two key findings: (9)

CB1 + CB2 Receptors - CBD stimulates CB1/CB2 receptor sites to contribute to general anti-inflammatory effects, which are linked to mood disorders. Mental Health Daily cites data that links neuroinflammation to a wide continuum of anxiety disorders. Administering CBD for its anti-inflammatory properties contributes to reduced inflammation throughout the body, including the brain, so it yields positive anxiolytic responses.

Opioid Receptor Modulator (ORM) - This particular neurogenesis reaction relates to the degree of severity to which one feels anxiety or depression. Delta receptor agonists block the anxiogenic effects of stressors. Specifically, modulation of the delta receptors within the central amygdala show that the severity to which an individual experiences neurogenetic responses such as depression, anxiety and stress can be greatly reduced. This occurs by the interaction of CBD with the ORM with the aforementioned 5-HT1A and CB1/CB2 effects. Reducing stress and anxiety can alleviate the "racing mind" that often keeps people up at night, rather than allowing full relaxation leading to sleep.

Restful Sleep

CBD attacks the widespread problem of sleep deprivation by regulating the functions within the brain that impair healthy sleep. Whether there is a physical cause of sleep deprivation, like chronic pain or inflammation, or a psychological cause like stress or anxiety, CBD works to even out the neurological responses and synaptic interactions that occur during sleep to maximize restorative NREM sleep.

For many who experience sleep disorders, or simply seek a deeper more restorative sleep, CBD provides an option that will lead to a gentle and restorative sleep cycle every night.


1 - Peri, C, "10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss," webmd.com.

2 - Felson, S MD, "Test Your Sleep Smarts," webmd.com (Feb. 17, 2016).

3 - Peri, C, "10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss," webmd.com.

4 - "Types and Stages of Sleep," howsleepworks.com.

5 - Gardner, R, "What Studies Say About CBD," Nutritional Outlook (November 2014).

6 - "Sleep Tight with CBD," Endoca, (November 2016).

7 - Pava MJ, den Hartog CR, Blanco-Centurion C, Shiromani PJ, Woodward JJ, "Endocannabiniod Modulation of Cortical Up-States and NREM Sleep," National Institutes of Health (Feb 2014).

8 - Pava MJ, Makryannis A, Lovinger DM "Endocannabiniod Signaling Regulates Sleep Stability," National Institutes of Health (March 2016).

9 - "CBD Oil for Anxiety: Is Cannabidiol An Effective Treatment?" mentalhealthdaily.com (Feb 2016).

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