Sleep is a crucial aspect of our well-being, but we currently live in a sleep-deprived culture: overuse of technology (smartphones, gaming, computers), stress, anxiety and lack of exercise/good nutrition often play major roles in our society’s collective lack of a good night sleep. But finding safe and effective sleep aids can be challenging – with many people often reaching for immediate fixes (over-the-counter or prescription medications or illegal substances). However, many drugs come with numerous side effects including dependency, dizziness, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, and even possibly, life-threatening issues. This brings up the question of Cannabis vs. Alcohol: Which is better for sleep?
Alcohol is often the simplest and most convenient self-medication for sleep. But does it really allow for a “good” night’s sleep? Now, in turn, there’s been recent growing interest in the use of cannabis as a sleep aid. As natural plant medicine, cannabis has been proven effective in treating anxiety, and thus, enable the user to naturally fall asleep.
For the sake of fairness, it helps to look into the comparative effects of both cannabis and alcohol on sleep, backed by research and scientific studies.
A recent article on cannabis and alcohol for dealing with insomnia published in cannabis.net cites the findings of cannabis-only use in aiding sleep:
“Compared to non-use, participants reported better sleep after cannabis-use-only and after co-use, but not after alcohol-use-only,” wrote the authors. “The study’s utilization of naturalistic data among individuals with anxiety symptoms replicated previously reported experimental findings among individuals without sleep and anxiety problems that overall, cannabis is associated with higher subjective sleep quality,” they said.
Cannabis and Sleep:
Cannabis contains compounds like CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which have been studied for their effects on sleep. Studies suggest that these compounds can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and potentially aid in conditions like insomnia.
- CBD and Sleep: CBD is known for its calming effects without psychoactive impacts. Research indicates that CBD can help reduce anxiety, which is often a contributor to sleeplessness
- THC and Sleep: THC may have sedative effects and may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
- CBN and Sleep: Then there is an important minor cannabinoid not often talked about. CBN is formed when THC breaks down over time. It is only slightly psychoactive (90% less THC).
Research is now showing CBN is a sleep-promoting cannabinoid and may improve the duration and overall quality of sleep – fall asleep faster and remain asleep longer. Participants in a 2021 study noted that they were able to wake up feeling well-rested.
Alcohol and Sleep:
While many turn to alcohol as a sleep aid, its effects can be deceptive.
- Initial Sedation: Alcohol can induce sleepiness initially, but this is often short-lived.
- Sleep Disruption: Studies show that alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep patterns and decreased sleep quality.
When comparing cannabis vs. alcohol, it’s essential to consider their impacts on sleep structure:
- Sleep Stages: Alcohol can reduce REM sleep, which is vital for cognitive functions. In contrast, cannabis, particularly CBD, may have less impact on sleep stages.
- Addiction Potential: Alcohol has a higher potential for addiction and abuse compared to cannabis, which could lead to long-term sleep issues.
Both substances come with potential side effects:
- Cannabis: May include dry mouth, dizziness, and in some cases, exacerbation of anxiety.
- Alcohol: Includes dehydration, disrupted sleep patterns, and potential for addiction.
Best Cannabis Products for Sleep
Since each person’s body is unique, different cannabis products may affect each user differently. However, as noted previously, the combination of CBD and THC – as well as a small amount of CBN – have proven the best to help consumers get a restful full night of sleep.
Cannabis flower and vapes generally contain different rations of CBD: THC but tend to be more THC-dominant. Edibles are beginning to be the dominate sleep-aid in the cannabis sector, as they contain the most diverse ratios of these important cannabinoids.
As a great reference, the brand Kiva has provided a simple infographic visualizing the effects of alcohol vs. cannabis edibles/gummies.