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Marijuana and Sleep
TruthOnPot.com – It’s no secret that marijuana has a profound effect on sleep and many regular users develop a habit of smoking right before bed.
Cannabis is best known for inducing drowsiness, or making its user feel sleepy. In addition, nighttime cannabis users often report a decrease in the time it takes to fall asleep and an increase in restfulness of the sleep itself.
A lack of dreams is another common occurrence, which demonstrates marijuana’s unique effect on the different stages of sleep, specifically REM sleep.
Sleep is one of the more mysterious aspects of human health, and scientists are still unravelling many of the details. However, as our scientific understanding of sleep continues to progress, so does our understanding of marijuana and sleep.
Cannabinoids, the main medicinal compounds found in cannabis, are known to mimic the effects of naturally occurring compounds in the body, called endocannabinoids. Interestingly, studies suggest that endocannabinoids play a role in the natural regulation of the sleep/wake cycle.
As a result, sleep seems to just another one of the many biological functions controlled – at least in part – by the body’s endocannabinoid system. The ability of marijuana to activate this system also explains why cannabis has such significant effects on sleep.
Stages of Sleep
To understand how marijuana affects one’s sleep, it is important to understand how sleep works.
Sleep is an active, naturally occurring state in which the brain cycles through various levels of activity.
The two basic states of sleep are rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of stages 1 through 3. During sleep, the brain cycles between REM and NREM sleep, with dreams generally occurring during the REM state.
How Marijuana Affects Sleep
Over the years, numerous studies have been dedicated to investigating the effects that marijuana has on its user’s sleep. The findings confirm the reason why so many users smoke before bedtime – marijuana acts as an effective sleep aid by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
But what happens after you fall asleep? Studies show that marijuana also has an impact on the different stages of the sleep cycle; namely, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.
As it turns out, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep are somewhat intertwined, at least for nighttime users of cannabis. Studies have found that ingestion of THC – the psychoactive compound in marijuana – leads to an increase in slow-wave sleep. An increase in slow-wave sleep leads to a decrease in REM sleep, which explains why marijuana users report experiencing less dreams during their nighttime slumber.
Another interesting finding is the REM rebound effect that is commonly observed when marijuana use is stopped. Common characteristics of an REM rebound are restlessness and overly vivid dreaming, which are a result of the brain spending more time in the REM stage than it usually would. An increase in REM sleep has also been linked to depression and symptoms of bipolar disorder.
What This Means For Your Health
Taking everything into consideration, it seems rather conclusive that bedtime marijuana use does in fact disrupt one’s sleep. However, its effects on overall health are not entirely negative, but rather seem to go both ways.
In addition to helping its user fall asleep faster, the effect of marijuana on slow-wave sleep may also be viewed as beneficial. Experts say that the most damaging effects of sleep deprivation are caused by inadequate slow-wave sleep; for instance, research has shown that reduced slow-wave sleep can be a powerful predictor of high blood pressure in older men. Thus, users who suffer from a lack of overall sleep may actually benefit from using marijuana.
On the flip side, a lack of REM sleep should be viewed as a potential drawback of nighttime marijuana use – although experts are still unsure of what REM sleep actually does for the brain. The fact that brain cells are highly active during REM sleep suggests that it does not play a role in the rest and repair of the brain. What’s more, research shows that REM sleep deprivation has little to no impact on learning and memory, with some studies showing that it may even improve memory. A lack of REM sleep has also been found to alleviate symptoms of depression. Even still, experts are confident that REM sleep has some sort of positive effect on the body, while it remains to be determined what exactly it may be.
All in all, marijuana users should take caution when using marijuana as a sleep aid. However, the use of commonly abused substances such as nicotine and alcohol are definitely not recommended before bedtime – both of which are known to disrupt the sleep cycle as well as exacerbate pre-existing sleep disorders. On the other hand, studies have shown that nighttime marijuana use may be beneficial for the treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.