I started taking a CBD (cannabidiol) oil capsule at night two weeks ago, and have never sleep so deeply or woken feeling so refreshed. I didn’t consider myself a bad sleeper before, as a trusty cup of chamomile tea usually sees me off within minutes of lights out. But adding in a CBD capsule was a complete revelation.
CBD and sleep
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural extract from industrial hemp plants. It does not contain the psychoactive ingredient (tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) found in the closely related marijuana strains of cannabis, so CBD is legal to take as a food supplement.
CBD is one of the best supplements to help you relax, lift your mood and promote general feelings of wellbeing. It helps you achieve a good night’s sleep by reducing muscle tension, reducing restlessness and anxiety, and by supporting a normal pattern of REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep.
What is REM sleep?
When you sleep, you cycle through five different stages of sleep. Initially, you quickly pass through the lighter Stage 1 and Stage 2 phases of sleep to spend around 70 to 100 minutes in the deeper, restorative, Stage 3 and Stage 4 sleep. Your sleep then lightens and you spend a short period of around 10 minutes in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in which your eyes are constantly on the move.
This cycle repeats four to six times throughout the night, but as morning approaches you spend more and more time – up to one hour – in REM sleep.
REM sleep is when you dream. Your brain is almost as active during this phase of sleep as when you are awake. REM sleep is thought to be important for learning, laying down and consolidating new memories, and for balancing your mood. Interestingly, your voluntary muscles are also paralysed during this time – probably to prevent you from acting out your dreams.
Loss of REM is a ‘silent epidemic’
Normally, you spend around 25% of the night in REM sleep. Getting too little REM sleep, and inadequate dreaming, has been linked with an increased risk of experiencing high blood pressure, weight gain, reduced immunity, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, irritability, anxiety and mood swings.
Abnormal patterns of REM sleep reflect an imbalance in certain brain chemicals, including serotonin and dopamine, and is also linked with an increased risk of depression and other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It’s not entirely clear which is cause and which is effect, however.
Loss of REM sleep and lack of dreaming is such as serious effect on your quality of life that it was recently described as a ‘silent epidemic’ and an ‘unrecognized public health hazard that silently wreaks havoc with our lives’ as well as ‘an erosion of consciousness’.
What causes loss of REM sleep?
Reduced REM sleep can occur with stress, drinking alcohol, inadequate sleep time, exposure to blue light at bedtime (eg from using smart phones, tablets and other electronic equipment) and with snoring and sleep apnoea.
Lack of REM sleep is also associated with taking sleeping tablets, which typically increase the duration of light sleep at the expense of REM sleep.
The psychoactive marijuana form of cannabis, which includes THC, also robs you of REM sleep. Alcohol and marijuana both temporarily increase the ability to sleep (literally a drug-like effect) and get you into deep sleep, but suppress REM sleep so you wake early and feel unrefreshed.
CBD and REM sleep
CBD oil has the opposite effect to marijuana, and improves sleep patterns to help restore REM sleep. Cannabidiol is currently under investigation as a potential aid for REM sleep behaviour disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness. It has already been found to improve rapid eye movement sleep disorder in people with Parkinson’s disease.
I didn’t know any of this when I first started taking cannabidiol and was stunned by how deeply I slept, and how much more refreshed I felt as a result. It was only when reviewing the literature that I realised I was spending more time in REM sleep. Within five minutes of taking a super-strength capsule my eyes feel heavy and I’m ready to nod off.
Cannabidiol works by enhancing the effects of brain chemicals such as serotonin and anandamide. It does not activate the receptors (CB1 and CB2) that make marijuana psychoactive and addictive, and is therefore non-addictive and does not produce a high.
Recommended CBD oil products
This is the cannabidiol supplement I take (Disclaimer: I act as a consultant to Healthspan) but you can also get good quality pharmaceutical products from CBD Oils (including gummies), and from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. I prefer the capsules (or gummies) as natural cannabidiol CBD oil has an earthy taste which can take some getting used to.
CBD is recognised as safe and well tolerated in healthy volunteers, with few side effects. A World Health Organisation report has confirmed that cannabidiol does not have any potential for abuse or to cause harm, and it is therefore not classed as a controlled substance. This makes it legal to use as a supplement for general wellbeing in the UK.
Some people experience vivid dreams when taking CBD but I sleep so heavily that I rarely recall my dreams. I can’t promise it will suit you, but if you are not sleeping well it’s certainly worth a try.
NB If you have a health condition or are taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, always check with your doctor or a pharmacist for possible drug supplement interactions before taking CBD. This is because CBD interacts with enzymes involved in metabolising some medicines, and may result in increased drug levels that could cause side effects. If the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your medication says to avoid grapefruit juice, for instance, then do not take CBD. If the leaflet does not mention grapefruit juice you should still check with your doctor before taking CBD.