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Here’s How Smoking Weed Before Bed Affects Your Sleep, According To Doctors

Remember when reducing pain among terminal cancer patients was the only medical use for marijuana?

Ah, how the times have changed. These days, weed is used to treat everything from migraines to asthma to epilepsy — and soon, perhaps, insomnia as well.

A research study conducted by Mic discovered most experts agree taking a hit (or, you know, three) before bed may contribute to a more restful sleep. This is especially true if the weed is an indica strain rather than sativa, as the latter tends to be more energizing.

Though the sedative effect of cannabis is generally accepted by the medical community, there does seem to be some debate as to whether smoking before bed actually improves sleep quality.

There are four stages of sleep, with the final two stages being the most important. Stage three is the “slow-wave” sleep cycle, during which your body repairs itself; while stage four, REM sleep, is the most restful stage.

According to Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer at HelloMD, smoking before bed extends the duration of stage three, resulting in a more restful sleep.

[Stage three is] the most sensitive to cannabis. Marijuana seems to make that stage last longer, and people get a more restful sleep when [slow-wave sleep] is longer.

Dr. Kevin Hill, director of McLean Hospital’s Substance Abuse Consultation Service, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, disagrees. He says it’s the fourth stage that matters most, explaining,

The key sleep state is the REM sleep. That’s the restorative stage for your sleep. Evidence suggests that’s lowered by marijuana.

Dr. Hill does, however, concede marijuana may improve the quality of sleep in the stages prior to REM sleep.

There’s no easy way to tell how weed is affecting your sleep, but listen to your body: Are you dreaming? Do you wake up energized? Can you fall asleep without smoking?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’re probably OK.

But if you answered “no” to any of them, you may want to re-evaluate your nightly routine — and if your insomnia persists, talk to a doctor about your options.

Remember when reducing pain among terminal cancer patients was the only medical use for marijuana? Ah, how the times have changed. These days, weed is used to treat everything from migraines to asthma to epilepsy — and soon, perhaps, insomnia as…

How Does Smoking Weed Before Bed Affect My Sleep?

If you speak to someone who has suffered from insomnia at all as an adult, chances are good that person has either tried using marijuana for sleep or has thought about it.

This is reflected in the many variations of cannabinoid or cannabis-based medicines available to improve sleep like Nabilone, Dronabinol and Marinol. It’s also a common reason why many cannabis users seek medical marijuana cards.

I am a sleep psychologist who has treated hundreds of patients with insomnia, and it seems to me the success of cannabis as a sleep aid is highly individual. What makes cannabis effective for one person’s sleep and not another’s?

While there are still many questions to be answered, existing research suggests that the effects of cannabis on sleep may depend on many factors, including individual differences, cannabis concentrations and frequency of use.

Cannabis and sleep

Access to cannabis is increasing. As of last November, 28 US states and the District of Columbia had legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Research on the effects of cannabis on sleep in humans has largely been made up of somewhat inconsistent studies conducted in the 1970s. Researchers seeking to learn how cannabis affects the sleeping brain have studied volunteers in the sleep laboratory and measured sleep stages and sleep continuity. Some studies showed that users’ ability to fall and stay asleep improved. A small number of subjects also had a slight increase in slow wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep.

However, once nightly cannabis use stops, sleep clearly worsens across the withdrawal period.

Over the past decade, research has focused more on the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Individuals with insomnia tend to use medical cannabis for sleep at a high rate. Up to 65 percent of former cannabis users identified poor sleep as a reason for relapsing. Use for sleep is particularly common in individuals with PTSD and pain.

This research suggests that, while motivation to use cannabis for sleep is high, and might initially be beneficial to sleep, these improvements might wane with chronic use over time.

Does frequency matter?

We were interested in how sleep quality differs between daily cannabis users, occasional users who smoked at least once in the last month and people who don’t smoke at all.

We asked 98 mostly young and healthy male volunteers to answer surveys, keep daily sleep diaries and wear accelerometers for one week. Accelerometers, or actigraphs, measure activity patterns across multiple days. Throughout the study, subjects used cannabis as they typically would.

Our results show that the frequency of use seems to be an important factor as it relates to the effects on sleep. Thirty-nine percent of daily users complained of clinically significant insomnia. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of occasional users had insomnia complaints. There were no differences in sleep complaints between nonusers and nondaily users.

Interestingly, when controlling for the presence of anxiety and depression, the differences disappeared. This suggests that cannabis’s effect on sleep may differ depending on whether you have depression or anxiety. In order words, if you have depression, cannabis may help you sleep – but if you don’t, cannabis may hurt.

Cannabis is still a schedule I substance, meaning that the government does not consider cannabis to be medically therapeutic due to lack of research to support its benefits. This creates a barrier to research, as only one university in the country, University of Mississippi, is permitted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to grow marijuana for research.

New areas for exploration in the field of cannabis research might examine how various cannabis subspecies influence sleep and how this may differ between individuals.

One research group has been exploring cannabis types and cannabinoid concentrations that are preferable depending on one’s sleep disturbance. For example, one strain might relieve insomnia, while another can affect nightmares.

Other studies suggest that medical cannabis users with insomnia tend to prefer higher concentrations of cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating ingredient in cannabis.

This raises an important question. Should the medical community communicate these findings to patients with insomnia who inquire about medical cannabis? Some health professionals may not feel comfortable due to the fluctuating legal status, a lack of confidence in the state of the science or their personal opinions.

At this point, cannabis’s effect on sleep seems highly variable, depending on the person, the timing of use, the cannabis type and concentration, mode of ingestion and other factors. Perhaps the future will yield more fruitful discoveries.

Deirdre Conroy is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The if and how might depend on whether you have insomnia, depression, or anxiety.