CBD for Insomnia:
Can It Help? September 2021

If your insomnia is caused by issues such as anxiety or pain, CBD products (such as tinctures and CBD gummies) may prove beneficial. Better yet, CBD works as a sedative at higher doses.

Gleb Oleinik March 10, 2021 Affiliate Disclosure Some links are specifically formatted for which we may receive a commission on resulting sales or clicks from affiliate partners (“Affiliate Links”).

Evidence Based
22 references

Checked for Accuracy

Ana Luiza Dias, Ph.D.

Ana Luiza Dias, Ph.D.

Strength of Evidence icon

Strength of
Evidence

CBD may significantly improve insomnia.
Effect Magnitude icon

Effect
Magnitude

CBD can help with common causes of insomnia, such as anxiety and pain, and directly make you more sleepy at higher doses. Still, further research is needed.
Results Consistency icon

Results
Consistency

CBD can help with common causes of insomnia, such as anxiety and pain, and directly make you more sleepy at higher doses. Still, further research is needed.

Insomnia is among the most common reasons for using cannabidiol (CBD).

Although clinical studies looking at the benefits of CBD for this condition are lacking, there’s evidence that it can help with some of the underlying causes of poor sleep, such as anxiety and pain.

CBD may have greater potential to improve secondary insomnia – difficulty sleeping caused by some other underlying issue.”

Considering that most cases of insomnia are caused by these and other external issues, CBD holds much promise as a safe, natural alternative to prescription sleeping medications.

Better yet, CBD works as a sedative at high doses, so it can also help you fall and stay asleep directly. Here’s what the research says about using CBD for insomnia.

Insomnia Overview

The most common type of sleep disorder, insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Insomnia symptoms affect about 30% of adults worldwide, although this figure falls to 10% for cases serious enough to cause sleepiness and other daytime issues. ¹

It’s also more common in women due to menstruation and menopause, as well as older adults.

In most cases, insomnia is caused by unhealthy sleep habits, such as looking at screens before bedtime, taking long naps, and eating a large meal late at night.

However, it can also be caused by an irregular sleep schedule, jet lag, drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, certain medications, and a long list of medical conditions that include anxiety, depression, sleep apnea, and chronic pain.

Insomnia Types

Insomnia is typically broken down into two main types:

  • Acute insomnia – insomnia that lasts a few days or weeks due to a stressful life event, such as losing a loved one. Most people experience this type of insomnia at some point in their lives.
  • Chronic insomnia – insomnia that occurs 3 nights per week and lasts for at least a month. This type of insomnia can be either primary, when the sleep problems are not caused by some other condition, or secondary when it’s caused by medications, drugs (e.g. caffeine), or another health issue such as anxiety. Secondary insomnia is more common, accounting for 70-90% of chronic insomnia cases. ²

 

Insomnia can further be described as sleep-onset insomnia when the main problem is difficulty falling asleep or maintenance insomnia when the main issue is staying asleep.

Insomnia Symptoms & Pathology

People with insomnia have difficulty falling or staying asleep. They can wake up during the night or early morning and have difficulty going back to sleep.

The most common symptom of insomnia is tiredness and excessive daytime sleepiness due to not getting enough rest at nighttime. This can also cause related symptoms such as depression, anxiety, irritability, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating.

Can CBD Help With Insomnia?

Research suggests that CBD can alleviate insomnia in multiple ways.

For starters, studies have shown that high doses of CBD may act as a sedative, which means it can make you feel sleepier.3 Most sleeping pills work in the same manner. ³

However, CBD may have greater potential to improve secondary insomnia — difficulty sleeping caused by some other underlying issue.

As an example, CBD may reduce anxiety, ⁴ which is one of the most common reasons people have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Thanks to this effect, CBD can also counteract caffeine-infused anxiety, which is another frequent cause of insomnia.

Additionally, studies have shown that CBD may alleviate depression, chronic pain, PTSD, seizures, and other issues and conditions that can cause insomnia. ⁵

Another less-discussed benefit is that CBD could make it easier to quit addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol, ⁶ which can lead to sleeping problems. ⁷ However, research in this area is just beginning.

Lastly, CBD can promote wakefulness when taken in small amounts ⁸ — the opposite of the sedative effect seen at high dosages. As such, you could take small doses of pure CBD to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness.

How CBD Works

CBD works by interacting with more than 70 different molecules in our bodies, which explains why it can have so many effects. ⁹

First and foremost, CBD influences your endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Made up of three key parts — endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), and special enzymes — this system regulates many vital processes, including the sleep-wake cycle. ¹⁰

This means the ECS plays an important role in promoting and maintaining sleep. One compelling piece of evidence is the fact that the two major endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG) fluctuate in response to the time of day in the rat’s brain. ¹¹

There’s also evidence that activation of the CB1 receptor promotes sleep, which may explain the sedative effects of THC. ¹²

CBD can influence the ECS by reducing the breakdown of anandamide, an endocannabinoid that plays a role in sleep. ¹³

For example, one rat study found that anandamide induced sleep by acting on the CB1 receptor to increase the brain’s levels of adenosine, a calming neurotransmitter (brain chemical). ¹⁴

CBD can also interact with other systems involved in regulating sleep, anxiety, and related processes, such as serotonin (5HT1a) receptors. ¹⁵

What Does the Research Say?

Researchers have yet to fully explore the benefits of CBD for insomnia. Still, there’s growing evidence that it can help.

For example, one 2016 case report talked about a ten-year-old girl with insomnia caused by PTSD who took CBD oil and capsules for 5 months. The treatment improved her sleep quality and duration, as well as her anxiety. ¹⁶

Similarly, in a study of 21 PTSD patients taking CBD, 38% reported improved sleep as one of the benefits. ¹⁷

Meanwhile, a 2019 study examined CBD’s benefits in people suffering from anxiety or poor sleep. CBD improved anxiety and sleep in most of the study participants, although the effect on sleep fluctuated in the last two months of the study.

There’s also evidence that CBD can help with sleeping problems related to chronic pain.

In a 2019 study, 94 chronic pain sufferers took CBD soft gels alongside their standard opioid medication for 8 weeks, with the majority reporting improvement of pain and sleep quality. ¹⁸

Finally, a 1982 study reported that 160 mg doses of CBD had sedative effects in 16 people with insomnia, who experienced fewer sleep disturbances and slept longer. ¹⁹

As a whole, it’s clear that CBD could help people sleep better, but rigorous, high-quality clinical studies are needed.

Using CBD for Insomnia

There are many products and ways to use CBD for insomnia. Most people settle on CBD oil because it’s cost-effective and has long-lasting effects. You should take it about 30 minutes before bedtime to give the CBD time to start working.

Although you can also take capsules or gummies, CBD has low oral bioavailability, which means only a small portion is absorbed by the body. ²⁰ As a result, have to take larger doses to get the same effects as CBD oil.

Another option is to vape CBD, which provides instant relief but has the shortest-lasting effects out of any administration method.

Whichever product you choose, we recommend looking for full-spectrum CBD. This type of extract contains all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds present in hemp.

These natural substances work in synergy, strengthening the effects of CBD — what researchers call the cannabis entourage effect. ²¹

How Much CBD Should I Take for Insomnia?

There’s no official recommended dosage of CBD for insomnia.

The right amount of CBD to take varies from person to person, based on factors like your body weight, genetics, insomnia severity, and the type of product you’re using.

That’s why the recommended approach is to start with a low dose and gradually raise it over time.

You can start with 10-15 mg of CBD, wait two hours to see the effects, and increase as needed until you begin to experience the desired effects. As a general guideline, most people take 20-50 mg doses of CBD.

Are There Any Side Effects?

According to thorough research, CBD is a safe, well-tolerated compound with mostly minor side effects. In comparison, most sleeping pills cannot be used in the long term because they can be addictive and cause notable side effects.

The most common side effects of CBD are: ²²

  • Sedation, tiredness, and drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea and nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in appetite or weight

 

Still, these effects were only found in studies using high oral doses of pure CBD.

Since most people use CBD oil instead of capsules and other oral products, take smaller amounts, and often choose full-spectrum formulas, they may be less likely to experience these side effects.

Conclusion

In summary, CBD is a promising alternative treatment for insomnia. Although high-quality clinical studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness, current findings are encouraging.

CBD can address insomnia on multiple fronts. Most importantly, it can relieve anxiety, pain, and depression, which often cause insomnia.

High doses of CBD can also have sedative effects, making it easier to fall and stay asleep, whereas lower doses can make you feel more awake, helping counteract daytime drowsiness. Not to mention, products infused with melatonin may provide further sleep aid.

Unlike prescription sleeping pills, which can become addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms and other serious side effects, CBD is a relatively safe, natural substance. However, if you’re currently on a prescription, we recommend consulting your doctor for medical advice concerning CBD.

If you want to get a good night’s rest, we recommend starting with a small dose of full-spectrum CBD oil and increasing as needed.


Gleb Oleinik

Gleb Oleinik is a freelance CBD & cannabis writer from Vancouver, Canada. He’s read thousands of studies about cannabinoids and other beneficial natural compounds, helping him translate complex science into plain language. He’s also written third-party lab test reports of CBD products and knows the industry inside and out. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym and out in nature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Since CBD may help to decrease anxiety and pain (two inhibitors of sleep), chances are it’s unlikely to keep you up at night. However, we can’t confirm that it will help you get to sleep at night as more research is necessary. There are a number of CBD products that incorporate melatonin with CBD in order to better promote sleep.