Your Guide To Cannabis And Sleep

Table of Contents
Cannabis and Sleep

Different images come to mind when people think about cannabis. Perhaps it’s a flashback to the Woodstock era of the ‘60s or the edgy group you hung out with in high school. Maybe it’s your Aunt Doris who found success using cannabis through her cancer treatment or your friend who uses edibles occasionally to ease his anxiety. 

We all have predetermined ideas about cannabis and that’s okay. But the fact is there’s a growing area of research uncovering how it works in the body — igniting conversations about how it may be used intentionally to help people. Case in point: cannabis and sleep. 

Can cannabis help you sleep better? How does it compare to other natural sleep aids? What potential downsides are there? And what do we know so far about its effectiveness? We’re digging into what the research says about cannabis and sleep so you can make informed decisions.

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.

Long Story Short

  • With its legalization in more areas, cannabis is becoming more widely used for things like reducing anxiety, alleviating chronic pain, and improving sleep.
  • Using cannabis to improve sleep may work for some people and not others. For some, it even leads to worsened sleep among other side effects.
  • There’s not enough evidence yet to say whether cannabis is good for sleep or exactly how to use it. Your best bet is to prioritize improving your sleep hygiene and speak with your healthcare provider about concerns.

Does Cannabis Help You Sleep? 

While the normalization (and legalization) of using cannabis medicinally and recreationally has grown, the science behind whether it improves sleep is still in its infancy. Frankly, some people find cannabis to be helpful for their sleep, while others don’t. (1)

Some studies show promise in using cannabis for therapeutic reasons like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, or restless leg syndrome, all of which are things that can make sleep challenging and inconsistent. Small studies even show the potential for using cannabis for sleep apnea, a disorder of paused breathing during sleep, and people with chronic insomnia. (2) (3) (4)

On the other hand, there’s also evidence that people who heavily use cannabis experience more issues with their sleep. (5) (6)

Perhaps there’s a sweet spot. Cannabis may be helpful for certain sleep-related issues in some people when used in moderation, though it does appear the concept of “too much of a good thing” applies here. (2) Overall, more research is needed before a concrete verdict is reached, but we’ll dig into the existing science of how cannabis impacts sleep quality below.  

How Does Cannabis Impact Sleep Quality? 

We caught up with Dr. Chester Wu from RISE Science to learn more about how cannabis may work for sleep, plus some other important information about the drug as a whole.

He explained that cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (a network of receptors and neurotransmitters that regulate various physiological processes, including sleep). 

When you consume cannabis, these compounds bind to cannabinoid receptors in your brain and body. This can influence your sleep by regulating sleep-wake cycles, promoting relaxation, and reducing anxiety or pain that might interfere with sleep. (2)

Additionally, cannabinoids have been shown to have sedative and sleep-inducing properties. THC, in particular, can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the duration of deep sleep. However, it may also suppress REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is important for cognitive function and overall sleep quality. (7) (8) (9)

How Does Cannabis Work as a Sleep Aid?

Wu notes that most of what we know about cannabis and sleep comes from studies that focus on using it for pain management or anxiety, and sleep is reported as a secondary outcome. (7)

He continues, “Research shows cannabis may help those with certain health conditions sleep, but studies also show its effectiveness can vary widely and may make sleep worse for some individuals.” 

Because of the variable research results, and the fact that cannabis has only recently become legalized in various parts of the world, there’s still much to be learned about its impact on our sleep. (10)

For these reasons, Wu says, “It’s not recognized as a reliable sleep aid compared to more established treatments, like sleep hygiene or CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy) for insomnia.” (11)

How Cannabis Impacts Each Stage of the Sleep Cycle

While more research is needed to understand how cannabis affects each stage of your sleep cycle — and its long-term consequences for sleep quality and health — we have some ideas. 

Using cannabis may help you to fall asleep quicker, especially if the strain contains higher amounts of THC (like Lemon Meringue, Laughing Buddha, or Silver Haze). However, as sleep continues through the night, THC can suppress REM sleep. This phase of sleep is essential for healthy cognitive function and emotional regulation. (2) (12)

During sleep, people typically go through four stages: 

  • Stage 1, characterized by light sleep and easy awakenings
  • Stage 2, where brain waves slow down and occasional bursts of rapid brain activity occur
  • Stage 3 and 4, AKA deep sleep or slow-wave sleep, where brain waves are the slowest and it’s most difficult to wake

These stages cycle throughout the night, with periods of REM sleep, where dreaming occurs, interspersed between them.

Cannabis may also increase how long you’re in deeper stages of sleep, such as slow-wave sleep, which is important for spring-cleaning your memory files and for the physical restoration of your body. (13)

How Does Cannabis Compare to Other Sleep Aids?

There’s no shortage of sleep aids on the market, which makes it a little overwhelming to determine which one(s) may be the best fit for us. And where does cannabis fall on the spectrum? 

When comparing cannabis to other options for sleep, it’s important to consider factors like efficacy — what the research says — safety, and potential adverse effects.

Cannabis may have a sedative effect that can help some people fall asleep faster and enjoy a more restful sleep, especially strains that are higher in THC. However, Wu says THC may lead to more disrupted sleep throughout the night—more on that later. Overall, the effectiveness of cannabis can vary widely depending on quality, dosage, individual tolerance, and how your body responds to the presence of other cannabinoids like CBD. (2)

Traditional sleep aids, such as prescription medications like benzodiazepines or hypnotics, may be effective at inducing sleep but can come with risks of dependency, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. (14)

Over-the-counter sleep aids, like antihistamines, may also help you fall asleep but can cause prolonged drowsiness and brain fog the next day. (15)

Finally, there are plenty of non-pharmaceutical natural sleep aids, like minerals, botanicals, or amino acids. Some of the most popular are lavender, tart cherry, melatonin, chamomile, passionflower, valerian root, magnesium, and L-theanine. Many people find these options helpful, but again, results can vary from person to person. (16)

Cannabis is generally perceived as being a more natural sleep aid option, given that it comes from a plant. However, it’s not without potential risks. Regular or excessive cannabis use can lead to increased tolerance, dependence, and cognitive-related symptoms. It may also not be appropriate for everyone, such as people with a history of substance abuse disorders. (17) (18)

It’s worth noting that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider cannabis a sleep aid. In fact, they have not yet approved cannabis for treatment for any disease or condition, though this may change as more research is conducted. 

The Types of Cannabis That Are Best for Sleep

Okay, so cannabis may or may not be helpful for sleep — but how can you choose one that’s more likely to be effective? 

“Types of cannabis with higher CBD and lower THC content are often considered better for sleep due to CBD’s potential calming effects and high THC levels’ potential for sleep disruption,” shares Wu. “But the optimal type and dosage are very much unknown with much more research needed.”

The two main strains of cannabis are indica and sativa, with several hybrids or crossbreeds that contain some of both. Between these two, indica appears to be more calming and effective for targeting symptoms of insomnia, though more research is needed. (19

Potential Side Effects of Cannabis 

While cannabis may help improve sleep, some people may also experience side effects like: 

  • Dependency: Long-term use may lead to increased tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects, and dependence, where individuals may feel like they have to use cannabis to fall asleep. (2)
  • Cognitive effects: Long-term use of cannabis with higher THC content can impair brain function, including memory, attention, and decision-making. (20)
  • Breathing issues: Smoking cannabis, similar to tobacco, can irritate the lungs and lead to respiratory issues such as chronic cough, bronchitis, and increased risk of respiratory infections, especially with regular use. (21)
  • Mental health effects: In susceptible individuals, regular cannabis use may worsen or trigger underlying mental health conditions like psychosis or schizophrenia.  (18)
  • Daytime drowsiness: Even short-term cannabis use, especially in higher doses or those that are high in THC, can promote fatigue that makes it harder to function and be productive the next day. (22)
  • Disrupted sleep: There are some instances in which cannabis use can do pretty much the exact opposite of what you’re going for with your sleep. While it may be helpful for some people to fall asleep faster, it can also disrupt REM sleep. Long-term use may lead to REM rebound, causing vivid dreams and difficulty staying asleep through the night. (2)
  • Cardiovascular effects: Cannabis use can temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure, which may pose risks for people with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. (23)
  • Impaired motor skills: The “high” of cannabis can affect your coordination, balance, and reaction times, which is why it’s best not to jump in your bulldozer — or drive your car — afterward. (That’s also called driving under the influence). (24)
  • Interactions: It’s possible that cannabis can interact with certain sedatives, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and blood thinners in a way that makes them work too much or not as well, something to be aware of even in the short-term. (25)

Furthermore, “Individuals with a history of substance use disorder, those with certain mental health conditions that could be exacerbated by cannabis use, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and teens, due to potential impacts on brain development and overall health, should avoid using cannabis for sleep,” warns Wu. (26)

How to Use Cannabis Effectively for Sleep

If you’re having trouble sleeping, “I first recommend trying more universally recognized and science-backed approaches,” says Wu. If that doesn’t work, you might consider other sleep aid options like cannabis or other botanicals with the guidance of your healthcare provider. 

“Much more research is needed before there are clear guidelines on how any one individual should use cannabis for sleep, or if this is something that makes sense to do.”

— Dr. Chester Wu

Wu also notes the importance of understanding that several factors can influence how cannabis affects you. For example, the method of ingestion (say, smoking versus consuming edibles), the specific cannabis strain, and the composition (levels of THC, CBD, and the type of terpenes present). Not to mention, the dosage, a person’s history with cannabis, their weight, metabolism, gender, and previous meals can all influence how cannabis makes them feel. (27)

Overall, Wu says, “Much more research is needed before there are clear guidelines on how any one individual should use cannabis for sleep, or if this is something that makes sense to do.” (28)

When to Talk to a Doctor About Cannabis and Sleep

It’s normal for all of us to experience ups and downs in our sleeping patterns because, well, life. Things like a long day at work, emotional stress, injuries, or even staying up too late the night before can make it harder to stay on track with sleep. 

However, sleep is crucial for our health and our body’s ability to properly rest, repair, and rejuvenate. Any time you feel like something is “off” with your body — including chronic trouble sleeping — it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional. 

Wu recommends finding a sleep expert if you’re struggling with chronic sleep issues that have not responded to conventional treatments, if you’re experiencing significant side effects from other sleep aids, or if you have concerns about how cannabis may interact with your overall health or other medications.

“If you have sleeping challenges or suspect a sleeping disorder, cannabis shouldn’t be the first place to turn,” says Wu. “Instead, start by inspecting your sleep hygiene. Most of our behaviors while we’re awake can either promote or disrupt our sleep.”

He’s referring to the way our everyday habits influence how well we sleep at night. Some of the best ways to improve sleep hygiene include: (29)

  • Following a consistent sleep-wake routine
  • Avoiding screens close to bed, because the blue light can disrupt melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep (30)
  • Create a sleep-promoting environment in your bedroom using comfy bedding, breathable pajamas, and white noise (if needed)
  • Not exercising, drinking caffeine or alcohol, or eating a large meal right before you lay down for bed

In other words, there are plenty of lifestyle-related factors that can influence sleep, so make sure these are aligned with your sleep goals before jumping to using other sleep aids.


Does cannabis make you tired?

Cannabis can affect people differently, but for the most part, yes, it’s known to induce feelings of relaxation and drowsiness. This is usually attributed to the presence of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, which interact with receptors in your brain and body and make you sleepy.

Does cannabis help with insomnia?

Cannabis may help improve insomnia symptoms for some people because of how it promotes relaxation and sedation. Again, the cannabinoids THC and CBD have potential sleep-promoting effects by interacting with your endocannabinoid system.

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

For some people, cannabis and sleep make a great pair on nights when extra help entering dreamland is needed. For others, using cannabis has the opposite effect, keeping them up longer or triggering disruptions throughout the night. 

The bottom line is that we don’t yet know enough about using cannabis for sleep to make any specific recommendations. In the meantime, it’s best to focus on your sleep hygiene and speak with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about not catching enough Z’s.


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          Wu, Chester. Personal Interview. April, 2024.

Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD is a Colorado-based health and nutrition writer who has been published with a number of trusted wellness platforms. She is a dietitian who specializes in plant-based living, as well as a mother of two humans and a dog.