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We all know that a good night’s sleep is most important, so why are so few of us getting enough of it? Sleep disorders are on the rise, with around a third of adults in the UK having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. Sleep disorders can be caused by many factors, including environmental, physiological, or mental health problems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this year has seen a sharp rise in stress-induced insomnia due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns.
You’ve probably experienced some of the symptoms of sleeplessness – such as tiredness, irritability, headaches, lack of energy, and slower reaction times – after a particularly unrestful night. Some of them bring to mind the effects of heavy drinking, like slurred speech and impaired memory. Studies on schoolchildren have also found that a lack of sleep leads to symptoms similar to those connected with ADHD, such as difficulty concentrating and retaining information.
However, these are only the short-term effects of a bad night’s sleep. More long-term sleep disorders can lead to hormone imbalances which can cause weight gain and other health problems. Prolonged sleeplessness can also cause high blood pressure, an elevated heart rate and a weakened immune system. If sleep is so vital, why doesn’t it come easily?
The sleep cycle consists of four stages – a rapid-eye movement stage (REM) and three nonrapid-eye movement stages (NREM). The full cycle is repeated around 5-6 times per night, with the first lasting between 70-100 minutes, and the remaining cycles around 90-120 minutes each.
NREM Stage 1 The first stage is also known as “relaxed wakefulness”, and only lasts for a few minutes. It’s the state that occurs just before you drift off, wherein your heartbeat, breathing, eye movements and brainwaves begin to slow, and your muscles relax.
NREM Stage 2 This stage of light sleep sees your heartbeat and breathing slow further, and your muscles become even more relaxed. Brain wave activity slows too, with brief bursts of electrical activity. The body temperature lowers, and eye-movement stops completely.
NREM Stage 3 This is the most beneficial stage of sleep, when the body can grow and develop, repair muscle tissue, and boost the immune system. This deep-sleep stage is difficult to wake from, as the heartbeat, breathing and brainwaves reach their slowest levels.
REM Stage 4 The dream stage – this is when your mind processes the day and creates memories. During this stage, the eyes move rapidly from side to side behind the eyelids, and brainwave activity returns to near-waking levels. The breath becomes faster and irregular and the heart rate and blood pressure increase. During REM sleep, the arm and leg muscles are temporarily paralysed to prevent you from acting out your dreams. Studies have shown that CBD can prolong the NREM3 stage, giving the body more time to repair and protect itself, and building energy so you can wake up feeling refreshed.
We still don’t have a full picture of the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS). What we do know is that it helps the body to maintain its natural state, known as homeostasis. It does this by managing almost every system in the body, including the sleep cycle.
The ECS is made up of three parts – endocannabinoids (similar to the Cannabinoid compounds found in Hemp and Cannabis Plants, but naturally produced by the body), receptors, and enzymes. When needed, the endocannabinoids are created and sent out to different parts of the body depending on their purpose, where they bind with a receptor to indicate that an action is required. Once the action has been taken, enzymes break down the endocannabinoid.
So far, experts have identified two different types of Endocannabinoid – Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). Interestingly, AEA is present in the body at higher levels at night, and 2-AG at higher levels during the day, suggesting that these endocannabinoids help to maintain a healthy cycle of sleep at night and wakefulness during daytime.
Many experts believe that the use of CBD prevents the endocannabinoids from being broken down by the enzymes, meaning they can have a larger effect on the body. CBD has also been shown to increase the availability of endocannabinoids in the body.
CBD for Insomnia
Many researchers believe that CBD helps us sleep by tackling the root causes of insomnia. This is a valid argument, as CBD has been shown to ease many of the most common causes of disordered sleeping.
There is a considerable amount of evidence to support the claim that CBD helps to reduce pain and can also reduce inflammation. Some cancer patients choose to use CBD to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. Those with chronic or long-term pain may find that CBD helps ease discomfort and makes sleep easier.
Mental Health Problems
Evidence suggests that CBD may be able to help with General Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This may be because CBD alters serotonin signals in the brain. Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”, and low levels of Serotonin are often associated with depression and anxiety.
REM-Sleep Behaviour Disorder
Commonly referred to as RBD, REM-Sleep Behaviour Disorder is a type of parasomnia which causes people to act out their dreams whilst asleep. CBD has been found to improve the symptoms of RBD, allowing for a more restful night’s sleep.
If you want to try CBD for sleep, we recommend starting with a low dosage, especially if you’ve never used CBD before. If you don’t feel any improvements to your night’s sleep within a week, you should increase your CBD% dosage to say CBD10%. It’s also important to stay consistent in your usage, particularly in the early stages. Inconsistencies will make it difficult to figure out what dose works best for you and may affect your sleep negatively. Keep track of how you are feeling during the day, as well as at night. CBD often helps you feel more alert during the day, which could be a sign that it is altering your sleep cycle for the better.