Can CBD Oil Help With Insomnia?

  • Studies have noted that both CBD and THC affect the modulation of the body’s circadian rhythm(1)
  • CBD was shown to indirectly increase adenosine, a chemical responsible for decreasing wakefulness and signaling the brain to sleep(2).
  • Recent clinical studies suggest that CBD might provide temporary insomnia relief. However, the results may not be sustained(3).
  • While studies highlight the potential of CBD in promoting and maintaining sleep, more research is required on the long-term effects of CBD in regulating the sleep cycle. 

Why People are Turning to CBD Oil for Insomnia

About 8-40% of the general population is reportedly inflicted with insomnia, depending on the criteria applied. While up to 30% of the population reports experiencing at least one symptom of insomnia, another 8-10% experience insomnia that lasts at least a month.

Within this range, approximately 4% regularly use sleeping agents to alleviate sleep disruptions(4).

Treatment for insomnia may involve non-pharmacologic or pharmacologic treatment. Non-pharmacologic treatments include cognitive behavioral procedures that aim to help patients change their mindset and behavioral patterns involving sleep through therapy(5).

Non-pharmacological treatments are inexpensive yet effective. However, it may take time before patients can experience the desired outcome.  

Meanwhile, pharmacologic treatment involves prescribing sleeping agents to patients who experience severe daytime symptoms. Doctors note that sleeping agents help patients who respond to the rapid effects of drug therapies better. However, these therapies have adverse effects.

While pharmacological treatments for insomnia produce significant improvements in an individual’s sleep pattern, they are not without side effects. 

Research conducted in 2010 concluded that sleep medications might improve a person’s mental quality of life. However, the treatment’s adverse effects may degrade the physical quality of life(6).

With these considerations, people have begun to explore possible alternative treatments to conventional insomnia treatments. One product that has emerged at the forefront of possible alternatives is CBD.

How CBD Oil Works to Help with Insomnia

Understanding how CBD can help with insomnia requires understanding how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) functions.

The ECS is responsible for keeping the body’s state of homeostasis, allowing proper enzyme action and cell function. 

To keep the body in a homeostatic or balanced state, the ECS regulates pain sensation, metabolism, and memory. It also plays a role in regulating mood, sleep, and appetite.

The ECS functions via its two central receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors connect with chemical messengers or endocannabinoids in the body and signal the ECS to perform its functions. 

Each receptor can be found in specific parts of the human body and plays a particular role in the ECS.

The CB1 and CB2 receptors also bind with compounds from outside the body, called phytocannabinoids. 

Phytocannabinoids are abundant in the plant Cannabis sativa, and two of the most well-studied are CBD and THC.

Studies on both CBD and THC observed that both cannabinoids affect the components of the ECS involved in the modulation of the body’s circadian rhythm, including the promotion and maintenance of sleep.

Researchers attributed this modulation on both cannabinoids’ relationship with CB1 and CB2 receptors. 

For example, THC binds with and partially affects CB1 receptors. Meanwhile, CBD binds with and indirectly affects CB1 and CB2 receptors(7).

CBD’s binding to CB1 receptors has been noted to increase the concentration of anandamide in the body by moderately inhibiting its degradation(8)

Anandamide, also known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine or AEA, is a naturally-occurring cannabinoid in the body which helps regulate the “reward” circuitry of the brain.

Scientists observed that the presence of anandamide gradually increases the brain’s adenosine level. Adenosine is a chemical that decreases wakefulness and signals the brain to sleep. 

Results of the study suggested that CBD might help reduce sleep latency on insomniacs(9)

The research findings are consistent with a 2019 study that examined 72 adults with either anxiety or sleep problems. 

In that study, 79% of those who had trouble sleeping experienced improved sleep after consistent CBD intake.

However, these results fluctuated over time, prompting researchers to conclude that people might achieve short-term results with CBD intake. The effects may not be sustained(10).

Still, it is worth noting that some studies suggest that CBD may induce wakefulness. 

A research conducted in 1977 observed reduced sleep on mice upon systemic administration of CBD(11)

In 2004, researchers noted that administering 15mg of CBD promoted wakefulness in young adults(12).

In another research, scientists noted that when given a higher dose of CBD per day, a significant increase in the subjects’ quality of sleep can be observed, along with a decrease in dream recollection. 

Reports of increased total sleep time and less sleep fragmentation were also documented in the research. No adverse effects were observed on the following day(13).

These findings support the hypothesis that low-dose CBD may have stimulating effects, while higher doses may act as sedatives (14).

The Pros and Cons of CBD for Insomnia

ProsCons
CBD shows promise in helping reduce sleep latency in insomniacs while promoting quality of sleep(15).Evidence suggests CBD’s limitation as an insomnia treatment in the long-term.
CBD has been shown to produce little to no side effects that can affect subjects’ daytime activities(16).Studies on CBD’s efficacy as a treatment for conditions, such as insomnia, are still limited.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD “is generally well-tolerated with a good safety profile.”The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve CBD use on insomnia.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) classified CBD as “non-addictive”(17).Side effects of CBD may include diarrhea, reduced appetite, fatigue, and drowsiness(18).
CBD may adversely interact with patients’ medications(19).

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder associated with difficulty falling asleep, frequent night-time awakenings with difficulty returning to sleep, and awakening earlier than desired.

It is also characterized by dissatisfaction with sleep quantity or quality, often leading to significant distress or impairment in functioning. 

Insomnia symptoms can also manifest in the daytime. These symptoms include fatigue, mood disturbances, daytime sleepiness, and cognitive impairment.  

On its own, insomnia may be a result of stress, abrupt changes in work schedule, jetlag, and poor sleeping and eating habits. Consuming stimulants, as well as certain medications, may also cause insomnia(20).

Medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, arthritis, restless leg syndrome (RLS), allergies, or congestive heart failure, may also lead to insomnia. In postpartum and premenopausal women, hormonal shifts are highlighted as causes of insomnia(21).

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 50% of insomnia cases are related to mental conditions, such as psychological stress, anxiety, and depression(22).

The Importance of Sleep

Recent studies have shown robust and objective proof that sleep serves an essential function(23). Sleep disruptions, whether short-term or long-term, have been observed to produce health consequences.

In a study published in 2017, short-term sleep disruption was linked to a heightened response to stress, somatic pain, emotional distress and mood disorders, and reduced quality of life. 

A connection between short-term sleep disruption and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits was also observed.

Long-term consequences of sleep disruption include a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, weight-related issues, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and colorectal cancer(24).

Conclusion

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty in falling asleep, frequent night-time awakenings with difficulty returning to sleep, and early morning wakefulness. Its symptoms can also affect daytime activities, causing fatigue, mood disturbances, daytime sleepiness, and cognitive impairment.

Researchers have been studying CBD’s effects on the body’s sleep-wake cycle. While results are still inconclusive, studies highlight the potential of CBD in promoting and maintaining sleep. More research is required on the long-term effects of CBD in regulating the sleep cycle. 


  1. Suraev, Anastasia, Ronald R Grunstein, Nathaniel S Marshall, Angela L D’rozario, Christopher J Gordon, Delwyn J Bartlett, Keith Wong, et al. “Cannabidiol (CBD) and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for Chronic Insomnia Disorder (‘CANSLEEP’ Trial): Protocol for a Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blinded, Proof-of-Concept Trial.” BMJ Open 10, no. 5 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2019-034421.
  2. Bjorness, Theresa, and Robert Greene. “Adenosine and Sleep.” Current Neuropharmacology 7, no. 3 (2009): 238–45. https://doi.org/10.2174/157015909789152182.
  3. Shannon, Scott. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente Journal, 2019. https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/18-041.
  4. Fernandez-Mendoza, Julio, and Alexandros N. Vgontzas. “Insomnia and Its Impact on Physical and Mental Health.” Current Psychiatry Reports 15, no. 12 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-013-0418-8.
  5. Ringdahl, E. N., S. L. Pereira, and J. E. Delzell. “Treatment of Primary Insomnia.” The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 17, no. 3 (2004): 212–19. https://doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.17.3.212.
  6. Sasai, Taeko, Yuichi Inoue, Yoko Komada, Takashi Nomura, Masato Matsuura, and Eisuke Matsushima. “Effects of Insomnia and Sleep Medication on Health-Related Quality of Life.” Sleep Medicine 11, no. 5 (2010): 452–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2009.09.011.
  7. Suraev (2020)., Op cit.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Scott (2019)., Op cit.
  11. Murillo-Rodriguez, Eric, Andrea Sarro-Ramirez, Daniel Sanchez, Stephanie Mijangos-Moreno, Alma Tejeda-Padron, Alwin Poot-Ake, Khalil Guzman, Elda Pacheco-Pantoja, and Oscar Arias-Carrion. “Potential Effects of Cannabidiol as a Wake-Promoting Agent.” Current Neuropharmacology 12, no. 3 (2014): 269–72. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159×11666131204235805.
  12. Nicholson, Anthony N., Claire Turner, Barbara M. Stone, and Philip J. Robson. “Effect of ??-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol on Nocturnal Sleep and Early-Morning Behavior in Young Adults.” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 24, no. 3 (2004): 305–13. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.jcp.0000125688.05091.8f.
  13. Carlini, Elisaldo A., and Jomar M. Cunha. “Hypnotic and Antiepileptic Effects of Cannabidiol.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 21, no. S1 (1981). https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1552-4604.1981.tb02622.x.
  14. Babson, Kimberly A., James Sottile, and Danielle Morabito. “Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature.” Current Psychiatry Reports 19, no. 4 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0775-9.
  15. Suraev (2020)., Op cit.
  16. Carlini, E.A., (1981)., Op cit.
  17. NIDA. Researching Marijuana for Therapeutic Purposes: The Potential Promise of Cannabidiol (CBD). National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2015/07/researching-marijuana-therapeutic-purposes-potential-promise-cannabidiol-cbd. July 20, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2020.
  18. Brent A. Bauer, M.D. “CBD: Safe and Effective?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, December 20, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/is-cbd-safe-and-effective/faq-20446700.
  19. Ibid.
  20. “Insomnia.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, October 15, 2016. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167.
  21. Bauer, B.A., (2018)., Op cit.
  22. “Sleep Disorders.” NAMI. Accessed July 21, 2020. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Sleep-Disorders.
  23. Cirelli, Chiara, and Giulio Tononi. “Is Sleep Essential?” PLoS Biology 6, no. 8 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060216.
  24. Medic, Goran, Micheline Wille, and Michiel Hemels. “Short- and Long-Term Health Consequences of Sleep Disruption.” Nature and Science of Sleep Volume 9 (2017): 151–61. https://doi.org/10.2147/nss.s134864.
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