Insomnia is a very common sleeping disorder where people find it hard to fall asleep or struggle to stay asleep. According to the NHS, symptoms of insomnia include lying awake at night, waking several times during the night, or feeling tired even after you wake up. In the UK, it is very common for people to have poor sleep and one UK study from 2017 found that two-thirds of people who took part said they weren’t getting enough sleep. So what can be done to get more restful nights and how does CBD factor into getting better sleep?
What causes insomnia?
One of the major causes of sleeplessness and insomnia is actually anxiety. This is because when you feel anxious, your body tries to get you ready to deal with a stressful situation. However, from an evolutionary point of view, the only way it knows how to do this is to prepare for an intense activity like running away from a bear or getting ready to fight it. This is known as the fight or flight response.
There are two processes in the body that regulate activity and they work in coordination, in the same way, that an accelerator and a brake work to change the speed of a car. When the body needs to “speed up” and get ready for activity, the sympathetic nervous system is like an accelerator, getting your body worked up. It does things like increase your heart rate and directs blood away from the digestive system. This is what causes you to feel butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous; it’s a byproduct of your body hitting the accelerator and speeding your body up. When the body needs to calm or “slow down” it applies the “brake”: the parasympathetic nervous system. This slows your breathing and reduces your heart rate making you feel more relaxed and calm. Falling asleep is like bringing the car to a complete stop. You need to stop pushing the accelerator and start pressing the brake instead. However, as we mentioned earlier, when you feel anxious, your body prepares you by getting you ready for activity by hitting the accelerator. This is why being anxious makes it so hard to fall asleep, and why if you can reduce the anxiety, you are much more likely to fall asleep.
What is CBD?
CBD or “cannabidiol” is a type of cannabinoid, which is a family of chemicals that are derived from marijuana plants. When marijuana is used recreationally, you get high because it contains THC (another cannabinoid). CBD on its own does not have any psychoactive effects so it won’t make you “high”. CBD is already used as an active ingredient in FDA-approved medications and is generally considered by scientists to be safe for humans to consume.
How do we know if can CBD help?
As discussed in our previous article about CBD and anxiety, there is lots of scientific evidence that indicates that CBD could help to reduce anxiety. For instance, one study from last year which gave participants CBD and looked at whether it benefited their sleep and anxiety, found that “anxiety and sleep improved for most patients, and these improvements were sustained over time”. After just one month of taking CBD, 66.7% reported having better sleep.
Other studies have found similar results. This study of insomniacs found that participants who received 160mg of CBD reported sleeping significantly longer than volunteers who received a placebo and another study investigating PTSD also determined that their “main finding from this case study is that CBD oil can be an effective compound to reduce anxiety and insomnia”.
Although more research needs to be done before it can be approved as an official treatment for sleep disorders such as insomnia, studies like these indicate that there is scientific evidence that CBD can help improve sleep and insomnia.
What else can I do to improve my sleep?
Generally, there are a few things you can do to improve sleep. Firstly, you should try to get into regular sleeping habits. If you’re not sure how to do this, the best way to create new sleep rhythms is to wake up at the same time every day.
Another thing to do is to prepare for bed in a way that activates the parasympathetic nervous system, hitting the brakes on your body and getting you ready for sleep. This includes not drinking stimulants like coffee or doing lots of exercises late in the evening.
Also, you can trigger drowsiness by darkening your surroundings and not looking at the blue light, which is emitted by phone and laptop screens. Taking a small dose of CBD for example, a CBD tincture, before bed could also help you relax and get ready for sleep.
You also should avoid drinking alcohol at night to improve the quality of your sleep. Although alcohol can make you feel more drowsy at first, scientists have found that it reduces the quality of your sleep and can make you feel more tired the next day.
For more problematic sleep issues, it’s recommended that you improve your “sleep hygiene”. This means that you only go to bed when you’re sleepy, and you shouldn’t stay in bed when you’re not planning on going to sleep. By doing this, you train your brain to associate the bed and bedroom with sleep. As a result, when you go to bed in the future, you are more likely to feel sleepy.
If you have severe insomnia which is disrupting your life, you should also consider going to your doctor, as there are also other treatments such as prescribed medication and therapy which can help.