The Sleep-Supporting Science of CBD

Woman sleeping after completing her nighttime skincare routine

Here’s the thing about sleep: almost everyone wants more, and hardly anyone is getting enough these days, thanks to 24/7 digital culture, iffy caffeine habits, and dozens of other reasons you’re awake at 12am, 2am, and beyond. So it’s not all that surprising that people are turning to CBD, what with its seemingly endless benefits and lack of side effects, for help.

3 ways CBD helps with zzz’s 

Although an estimated 64 million Americans have tried CBD for one reason or another, a Consumer Reports survey revealed only 10 percent of Americans who reported trying CBD said they used it specifically to help them sleep. But the majority of those people said it worked. In fact, almost all studies with cannabis have reported improved sleep to some degree, notes Ethan Russo, MD, a neurologist and director of research and development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute. Here’s how. 

It impacts sleep cycles 

For instance, a 2019 study  suggests CBD might help people with short-term sleep problems. Other research hints that CBD may affect sleep directly, by interacting with receptors in the brain that govern the body’s daily sleep/wake cycles. And there’s also evidence that CBD interacts with the function of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. In doing so, CBD has the potential to do all the things that those neurotransmitters can do, i.e. improve sleep and bring a sense of calm.

It lessens anxiety 

Cannabis compounds also affect receptors throughout the body — the endocannabinoid system — including those in the brain. At least one of those receptors is thought to affect the body’s natural biorhythms. And CBD also interacts with another receptor in the brain that researchers have linked to anxiety. In a recent study, researchers looked at the health records of 72 patients who were treated with CBD for either anxiety or poor sleep.  During the three-month study, both anxiety and sleep improved for most patients. 

It tempers other issues

Finally, there are other indirect ways that CBD can improve sleep, says Russo. “It can benefit sleep disturbances primarily via symptom reduction,” he says, by cutting down on things like various aches and pains, muscle spasms, and even bladder symptoms, says Russo, all of which can keep you up at night. 

How to use CBD for sleep 

CBD is safe and non-habit forming — unlike so many sleep aids —making it even more attractive of an option. While many people look to a CBD supplement, powder or pill to help them drift off, body oils and bath soaks can be an easy (and relaxing) way to employ cannabidiol. “We have cannabinoid receptors in every layer of our skin, which work to keep our cells functioning properly, ” explains New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, “so our body is already designed to receive it.” It could be that gentle, extra nudge you need to nod off.