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Marijuana and Sleep: The Facts

By on November 3, 2012

Summary (click to view)

  • Cannabis users often rely on marijuana as a sleep aid
  • Cannabis affects sleep by acting on the endocannabinoid system
  • The normal sleep cycle consists of NREM sleep (stages 1-3) and REM sleep (stage 4)
  • Nighttime marijuana use increases stage 3 sleep and reduces REM sleep
  • Stage 3 sleep is the most important stage for the sleep deprived
  • Dreaming occurs during REM sleep
  • Studies show that marijuana may be useful for the treatment of common sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea
  • – It’s no secret that marijuana can have a powerful effect on sleep, and many users develop a habit of smoking right before bed.

    Marijuana is probably best known for its ability to induce drowsiness. In other words, it can make you feel sleepy. In addition, people who smoke before bed 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 also commonly reported by nighttime marijuana users, 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, decades of research on marijuana and sleep have revealed a number of interesting findings.

    What scientists now know is that cannabinoids – the active ingredients in cannabis, such as THC and CBD – actually mimic the effects of natural compounds in the body called endocannabinoids. What’s more, studies show that endocannabinoids act as natural regulators of the sleep/wake cycle.

    As a result, sleep seems to be just another one of the many biological functions controlled – at least in part – by the body’s endocannabinoid system. And by interacting with this biological system, marijuana can affect your sleep in a number of ways.

    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 of the brain. During sleep, the brain cycles through different stages of activity, also known as the stages of sleep. The two basic stages of sleep are rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. However, NREM sleep is broken down into stages 1 through 3, while REM sleep is considered stage 4. Dreaming usually occurs during REM sleep.

    Stage 1 – Occurs mostly in the beginning of sleep and lasts between 5 to 10 minutes. A very light stage of sleep in which one can be awakened easily. If aroused, the person will usually believe that they were fully awake.

    Stage 2 – A period of light sleep in which heart rate slows and body temperature drops. Lasts for approximately 20 minutes as the body prepares to enter deep sleep.

    Stage 3 (slow-wave sleep) – Also known as deep sleep, delta sleep or slow-wave sleep. Brain waves are very slow as blood flow is directed away from the brain and towards the muscles, restoring physical energy. Lasts for approximately 30 minutes and one may feel disoriented for a few minutes if aroused.

    Stage 4 (REM sleep) – The longest stage of sleep in which most dreams occur. Characterized by eye-movement and increased breathing and heart rate. Heightened brain activity during this stage causes vivid dreaming, but legs and arms are immobilized. The combination of brain wave excitement and muscular paralysis is why REM sleep is sometimes referred to as paradoxical sleep.


    How Marijuana Affects Sleep

    Over the years, many studies have set out to determine the impact that marijuana has on sleep. And the findings seem to explain why many choose to smoke before bedtime. That is, marijuana can act as a sleep aid by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

    But what happens after you fall asleep? Interestingly, studies show that marijuana can also affect the different stages of sleep; specifically, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.

    As it turns out, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep are somewhat intertwined. 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 often experience less dreams.

    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 would appear that nighttime marijuana use does in fact disrupt one’s sleep. While it is tempting to view this as a negative, research suggests marijuana could offer a few health benefits as well.

    For example, in addition to helping users 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.

    • Subject 07

      This is literally what is happening to me. I’m on day 12 of a cold-turkey detox, and I’m experiencing crazy amounts of rem sleep. Not necessarily bad dreams, but weird ones, and I feel like shit today. The proof is in me. This is accurate and should be considered by every pothead. I will never use this as a sleep aid again, and only as a way to get high occasionally.

      My advice: get off the weed and get some NyQuil zzz.

      • CJM

        NyQuil contains the following:

        Acetaminophen (325 mg/15 mL) (pain reliever/fever reducer)
        Dextromethorphan (15 mg/15 mL) (cough suppressant)
        Doxylamine succinate (6.25 mg/15 mL) (antihistamine/hypnotic)

        Give me natural anyday, or at the very least valerian or similar

      • bardgal

        I’ve read eating it is much different because it lasts longer, so it doesn’t wear off in the middle of one of the first cycles.

      • Trueherb

        I will never take NyQuil, ZzzQuil, or any kind of magic Quil that apparently does the job. Because it doesnt work for everyone. I don’t care if it works for you, it doesn’t work for me. ZzzQuil, gave me the absolute worst night I’ve had in the past 2 years. The first night, I took the suggested dose at 9pm. And I fell asleep around 5:30am, to wake up feeling awful at 8:30. So that night, said screw the dosage cup, and I took a large gulp of it at 9pm again. At around 10pm, I started feeling my heartbeat in my throat, it was very loud, and very slow. I sat up and looked around. I felt very uncomfortable. I stood up, my balance was very off, I turned my light on and covered my eyes until they adjusted. While I had my eyes covered, I heard my friends talking. Now let me tell you I live in Arizona with my dad, I moved from Pennsylvania a few months ago and all my friends live there. I thought I was dreaming. So I kind of played along, I walked over to my closet, grabbed the handle, and ripped it off. I fell down, and laid there for a few minutes, still holding the knob. My heart was racing now. I closed my eyes and tried to wake up, I heard my friends talking to me again, I opened my eyes and tried to follow the voices. I saw my friend sean, he grabbed me and started yelling my name. Are you okay? he kept asking. I passed out. I woke up the next morning in my bed with my dad sitting next to me asking what the hell happened last night. I said, what are you talking about. He told me I was walking through my house, holding my lamp(which was off), wobbling around like a drunk fool. He grabbed me and asked me if i was okay repeatedly but i didn’t answer. I passed out and he carried me to bed. SO yeah. you can take all the Zzzquil you want. I’m good with marijuana.

        • Spud

          The primary active ingredient in zzzquil is diphenhydramine, which is a deliriant, so your experience is unsurprising, especially considering you said you “Took a large gulp of it”.

      • Cody T

        You’re joking, right? Not only is the cannabis no longer being able to ‘help’ you in the way it can because you stop consuming it, but you tell other people to quit smoking it despite the fact that you are not them and are therefore much different to everyone else? Iow, different things work for different people – but your argument is that it DID work for you and because you stopped taking it your symptoms came back. No. kidding. C l a s s i c.

        I’m not going to argue for natural over chemical, because nature can kill you and chemicals are in nature, too – but in the fact that cannabis is so much easier to control, cheaper, and efficient.

    • Dave

      Mr./Ms. Blogger, maybe I missed it but can you please cite these, “studies” showing the effects of cannabis on sleep? Thanks.

      • moron

        Please and thank you

        • Dave

          Looks like it worked as they supplied a PubMed link.

    • Trueherb

      Ive tried Zzzquil, melatonin, herbal teas and nothing has worked. I’ve taken 20mg of melatonin and it still took me until 4am to start feeling sleepy. I have crazy insomnia. The only thing Zzzquil did was make me hallucinate, bad. It made my blood pressure drop really low, almost to a dangerous level I imagine, it was overall uncomfortable. I am never taking it again. And it gave me a really unpleasant hangover feeling after I work up. It didn’t make me sleep, it made me pass out. The herbal tea did nothing. I have the same chance of falling asleep with coffee. I used to smoke marijuana in high school. I would have trouble sleeping and even more trouble getting up at 6am. My parents were very anti-weed, so I had to come home really high, or sneak outside when everyone was asleep. I could fall asleep in minutes. No matter what anyone says, Marijuana is the best sleep aid there is. I am currently trying to obtain a medical marijuana card for my insomnia as it is horribly affecting my online classes.

      • Dylan

        I can tell you for a FACT that I have gone to bed AT LEAST once, high as fuck this particular time, and definitely dreamt. We can test it to see if it happens again, maybe we’ll find some ground breaking information:). But throughout the years I’ve been choppin tree I never thought about it. In college I developed the habit of choppin to pass out or just to reflect on my day before as I stared at my blue christmas lights (which btw had a rainbow cotton candy tinted scheme as a sharpied individual lights throughout the set…) anyway i used to do it a lot, leave the dorms at night to hit my bat, often times because i couldnt fall asleep. I’ve had problems falling asleep since i was kid. I think it officially began when I was tested for adhd and recieved the script for the drug that happens to be all the rage on campuses across america. So i chalked it up to my meds. My point is, i was doing it often enough for one to say i went to bed high most nights and have been for going on three years. Though i was only a heavy smoker for less than a year’s period ( the strive to be high all day err day) i now chop once maybe twice a day and so my tol is much lower allowing to feel baked on a hit or two

        • Dylan

          To conclude from my first message, i wonder if more extensive studying needs to be done. I’m a female deslite the name, but so I pay plenty attention to my dreams, i feel like girls enjoy and speculate dreams more than guys do or at least more than they will admit. But it surprises me then thst i didnt notice the vacancy of dreams in my sleep, in fact i felt i had had some. This year i can recall for sure a night i dreamt, it eas after partying i believe, i chopped a bowl probably at my neighbors got high as fuck and passed the fucked out. When i awoke i immediately and consciously thought to myself, i dreamt. What now?

          • Dylan

            Oh wow i forgot to mention that it was last fall (fall 2012- school year calendar lol) that my friend said that he loved getting high- durrrrr, but that he missed dreaming when he slept. I was confuzzled (It was then that i began to pay attention to it. Potentially in my past i hadnt always gone to bed high as sheeeet or even a little high as i remember. But surely i did got to bed high enough times to wonder, “how many nights did i pass out ‘sober’?” night time is usually when i feel like smoking and when everyone is doing it socially, therefore, i had to be high many a nights for ned in my day and i believe i still dream.

      • Hi

        insomnia effects online classes how why????? Cant you do the work when your uhhh, awake?

    • mike

      is any of the studies done on the use of cannabis been with people with narcolepsy with cataplexy?

    • Mr.x

      Anyway to counteract the affect or boost rem sleep?

    • Bertie

      There have been several studies on this. Some of which show cannabis use to reduce both rem sleep and stage 4 deep wave sleep.

      It doesn’t seem very balanced or impartial not to mention that point…

      I can find a few studies stating deep wave sleep is reduced and only this one stating the opposite. As these are contrary to previous findings they should be viewed with caution.

    • TLee

      It is scientifically proven in rats. Deprivation of REM sleep will definitely decrease your memory. This article is very wrong about that.

      • Lorenz

        Thanks for linking us to the study! Very helpful.

      • Hi

        How do you test memory in rats compared to people? Like fuck

    • justVisiting

      I have experienced, over years of on-again, off-again chronic pot usage, that I do not dream when using, and very notable dreaming when stopping. I think dreams clean the mind, and without that, cognitive capabilities are diminished…in other words my mind suffers without dreams.

    • supertired

      I was a daily toker and now have been off marijuana for 13 days. I wake up with my eyes burning from fatigue and don’t feel fully rested. I believe marijuana allowed me to feel more rested because it increases the deep sleep cycle and now that I haven’t smoked for 2 weeks I dream way too much and as a result wake up very fatigued. I usually don’t remember my dreams when I was smoking pot and would wake up feeling very rested.