For centuries, people have searched for something that can help people sleep but doesn't come with serious side effects. From pharmaceuticals to botanicals, acupuncture to herbs, people have tried everything.
In recent years, cannabidiol (CBD) has emerged as a promising contender. And, as the legalization of CBD has spread, so has the demand.
Even if your friends rave about the quality sleep they have after taking CBD, you may want more evidence of its effectiveness. If you're skeptical of all the hype, read on to learn what scientists and medical professionals have—and haven't—been able to prove about CBD and sleep.
Many CBD companies have products specifically marketed as sleep aids. While some only contain cannabidiol, others combine CBD with other calming or potentially sleep-inducing ingredients like melatonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and magnesium.
What specific claims do brands make about their CBD sleep aids? Many say their gummies, oils, tinctures, and patches can improve overall sleep quality and help you relax, fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed.
These claims aren't unfounded, as the endocannabinoid system does help regulate sleep and circadian rhythms. As explained by the American Sleep Association (ASA), CBD's interaction with the cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system may affect the sleep-wake cycle.
While this logic is sound, there currently isn't enough data to prove (or disprove) CBD's effectiveness as a sleep aid.
In 2019, the peer-reviewed journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology published an article titled The use of cannabinoids for sleep: A critical review on clinical trials.
For the paper, the researchers gathered and reviewed the clinical studies involving CBD and sleep published on PubMed, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. In conclusion, the researchers wrote:
"Many of the reviewed studies suggested that cannabinoids could improve sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances, and decrease sleep onset latency.
While many of the studies did show a positive effect on sleep, there are many limiting factors such as small sample sizes, examining sleep as a secondary outcome in the context of another illness, and relatively few studies using validated subjective or objective measurements."
This statement represents a consensus within the scientific community—CBD could promote sleep and help treat sleep disorders like insomnia, but we just don't know yet. Before scientists and health professionals can draw conclusions, more research on both the short-term and long-term effects of using CBD needs to be conducted.
As of 2021, we don't definitively know if CBD promotes sleep or improves sleep quality. However, we do have evidence that it can help treat some of the factors that keep people awake at night. If taking CBD before bed can reduce or remove the obstacles that prevent sleep, it could work as an indirect sleep treatment.
Research indicates that sleep and pain have a strong reciprocal relationship.
More than 67 percent of people with chronic pain have sleep issues, and 50 percent of people with insomnia experience chronic pain.
It follows that people with both chronic pain and insomnia may be able to improve their sleep by relieving the pain symptoms.
Various studies point to CBD as a potential treatment for chronic pain, though many researchers and medical professionals believe the current evidence is insufficient. In theory, CBD changes how you experience pain by blocking pain signals from reaching the processing centers in the brain. CBD may also reduce inflammation.
Only time and further research will tell if taking CBD for pain management really works. For now, many people are willing to try CBD because it's non-addictive. It could prove a safer alternative to habit-forming pain medications like opioid.
Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions often go hand in hand with insomnia. Like sleep and pain, the relationship is reciprocal. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety can cause sleeping problems, and sleep deprivation may lead to a sleep disorder.
In 2020, the New York Times found that more than 60 percent of people who use CBD report taking it for anxiety.
But does CBD actually relieve anxiety? It likely does.
In 2015, the peer-reviewed Neurotherapeutics journal published a review of 49 CBD and anxiety studies. Based on the results of these trials, the reviewers concluded that CBD "demonstrates efficacy" in reducing anxiety related to general anxiety disorder (GAD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic disorder (PD).
However, a 2021 trial with 103 adult participants found that reduced anxiety may not translate directly to better sleep.
The study did show promising results for anxiety relief. Anxiety scores decreased in the first month and remained reduced in the following months for 79 percent of the final sample group subjects. Sleep scores improved in the first month for 67 percent of the group but then fluctuated over the next few months.
The results of this study don't necessarily mean CBD doesn't work for sleep, as many other factors could have been at play. But, once again, these findings demonstrate the need for further research into CBD's effects on sleep latency, duration, and quality.
If you're looking for absolute evidence that CBD promotes sleep and is a safe and effective treatment—you won't find it. The current research and countless testimonials are promising, but we'll have to wait for further research to really know if it works. Plus, scientists don't know much about the potential long-term effects.
Whether or not a CBD sleep product is "worth" trying is ultimately up to you. The compound is generally well-tolerated, but there are potential side effects you should take into consideration.
If you want to know more about cannabidiol and learn how to find the best CBD products, take a look at our general guide to CBD. As always, you should consult with your doctor before starting CBD or any sleep supplement or medication.